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Manufacturing students technically trained, ready to begin working

by: PAUL PANULA, Manufacturing technology programs such as Sandy High School’s are training students to fill the local and national void of machinists, welders, sheet metal workers and other skilled jobs. This year, two graduating seniors from Paul Panula's (left) program are exiting Sandy High with top honors and bright job prospects. Kevin Sturge, center, will work at Northwest Technologies Inc., and Gabe Evens, right, will enter Boeing’s Tech/Prep Program.

An October 2011 survey of American manufacturers revealed that 600,000 jobs were left unfilled during a period when national unemployment was above 9 percent.

A February Wall Street Journal article reporting these figures revealed a massive skilled labor deficit, and the need for technically trained employees, ready to hit the ground running.

Manufacturing technology programs such as Sandy High School's are countering these numbers, training students to fill the local and national void of machinists, welders, sheet metal workers and other skilled jobs.

'It's wonderful when students are able to go straight from school to industry - to parlay their skills into decent-paying jobs,' says Paul Panula, Sandy's manufacturing teacher.

This year, two graduating seniors from Panula's program are leaving Sandy High with top honors and bright job prospects.

Gabe Evens will enter Boeing's Tech/Prep Program, one of 12 students selected for the paid internship after the company interviewed 70 students. After several grueling interviews and skills tests, Kevin Sturge has been hired at Northwest Technologies Inc., a company in Estacada specializing in laser cutting, machining and metal fabrication.

At first, Evens thought he'd pursue the automotive industry, but he realized early into high school it wasn't the right fit. Once he took manufacturing with Panula, he knew he could pursue it as a career and pushed himself to get ahead.

'People view manufacturing as greasy, dirty work, but a lot of it is smarts,' Evens says. 'If it wasn't for Panula, I wouldn't have had my eyes opened to the field.'

Both Evens and Panula pointed to the statistic that manufacturing jobs used to be 80 percent brawn and 20 percent brains; now they're 10 percent brawn and 90 percent brains because of technological advancements.

Evens will attend the Boeing program during the next three summers and attend Clackamas Community College during the school year.

Ultimately, Evens dreams of becoming a master machinist, but he also has a strong interest in environmental science and could picture himself as an environmental consultant.

Sturge has loved hands-on projects since he was young. At age 12, he had an apprenticeship with a man who taught him how to fix lawnmowers.

'Since then, I've been stuck on anything technical and hands-on,' Sturge says.

He'll begin working full time at Northwest Technologies Inc. shortly after graduation. While he jokes that the interview process looked at 'every aspect of Kevin Sturge,' he's grateful for the high school training that allowed him to earn his position.

'Apart from being one of the best manufacturing teachers in the Northwest, I feel like Panula should be recognized for how strong he is on the point of time, respect and cleanliness. It's a really great thing to learn how to function in a job and keep a job.'

Panula has about 100 students each year and offers four classes. This year, Panula's advanced students cumulatively scored a 90 percent on a technical assessment, something Panula says they can hang their hats on, as it's a very comprehensive exam.

One of Panula's goals has been to have his class emulate a work environment, with an emphasis on shop safety, work ethic, proper personal protective equipment and high-quality production.

'Programs like this exist to allow students to enter the workforce with a metals manufacturing skill set. Students can further their education via local community colleges in machine tools technology or welding technology programs.

'It's a neat place for students who might otherwise feel disenfranchised in some of the other (academic) areas,' Panula says. 'This area gives them a home and place that prepares them for the world of work.'