Giving Teens a Backstage Pass to Local Workplaces


By Cheryl Stritzel McCarthy

Industry in Whatcom County needs valuable employees, and students in Whatcom County need to know about job and career opportunities. Dealing with those parallel needs with its new Youth Engagement Initiative (YEI), the Whatcom Business Alliance brings local businesses and Whatcom County high school students together.

“We’re working with businesses and schools to take students into workplace facilities,” said Laura McKinney, NW Government Affairs & Public Relations Director for Alcoa who serves as Co-Chair of the YEI committee. Tom Kenney, recently retired northern Washington Regional President for Washington Federal joins McKinney as the second co-chair.

The initial phase of engagement involves a partnership with the Whatcom/Island/Skagit (WIS) Region of Junior Achievement (JA) Washington. Students will explore the world of job hunting through two in-class lessons of the “Job Shadow” curriculum. On-site tours of companies are the highlight of “Job Shadow.” Students visit a business or nonprofit organization, where they observe professional work conduct, learn what skills and education they need to earn jobs, and participate in a series of host-led challenges that bring home lessons from the “real world” of work.

At Alcoa, McKinney said, students will have a chance to see inside the manufacturing facility and learn about positions from entry-level all the way to engineers and accountants. “They’ll see how they might move up through a company,” she said, “and what their own future could look like. It is critical that they begin asking themselves now questions like, how do you start looking for a job? And what do your days look like when you have a job?”

In addition to the partnership with JA, the YEI is looking more broadly at the connection between our K-12, technical and community colleges, four year universities, and our business community. Business owners know that the key to their success is the quality of their people. “We [the YEI] want to build a bridge for Whatcom County students and young people to reach the family wage employment opportunities that are available right here,” said McKinney. “We want high schoolers to see the relevance of education to their futures.”

Whatcom County has an 80% graduation rate, which is above the national average, but only 31% of Washington high schoolers go on to earn some kind of post-secondary credential. A study by Boston Consulting Group foresees about 740,000 job openings in Washington over the next five years. Most of those jobs, especially those that support a good quality of life, will be filled by workers with post-secondary education or training (reference: Washington Roundtable).

The YEI kicked off Feb. 7 with an event at Bellingham Technical College, where 300 Whatcom County high school students heard from speakers Mike Andes (Augusta Lawn Care Services), Erin Baker (Erin Baker’s Wholesome Baked Goods), Kevin Menard (Transition Bicycle Company), and Anne-Marie Faiola (Bramble Berry Soap Making Supplies and WBA Business Person of the Year nominee). The high energy presentations offered some valuable advice like “Show up, and persevere” as well as some encouragement and optimism that each of the students have their own future in their hands.

“The response has been overwhelmingly positive from both sides,” McKinney said. “This fills an important need for both schools and businesses.” One request from the schools that were able to bring students for the kick off was to make the presentation into a road show so that the whole school might benefit.

YEI Co-chairs McKinney and Kenney expect to spend the majority of the spring recruiting businesses to participate in the JA “Job Shadow” program while also expanding their advisory Committee. The long term vision includes developing different levels of hands on learning experiences and scoping an online platform that would be a hub of information about different career paths and opportunities.

“You can’t walk into a manufacturing facility and see what it looks like to work there like you can in a coffee shop or a restaurant,” McKinney said.  “We want to provide a bridge that allows students to take those next steps towards their future with a real sense of what that future could be like.”

Click HERE for more information on the event.

The next opportunity for participation with the WBA’s Youth Engagement Initiative (YEI) comes up March29 when Whatcom Rotary North plays host to a Career Choices Fair

Meanwhile, we’re working on the details of the next YEI tour in our mission of bridging the gap between local employers and our local youth, nationally, student seek cheaper and quicker paths to liveable wage careers.

Full information about the YEI appears on our website:

If you know a local youngster interested in a path to good-wage careers after high school, and an alternative to going to college, refer them to a career fair at Bellingham Technical College (BTC):

Further, the WBA can set students up for a Job Shadow experience. You can facilitate that by becoming a Job Shadow Site host:

To stay abreast of the continuing development of the YEI, SIGN UP FOR WBA YOUTH ENGAGEMENT INITIATIVE NEWSLETTER

In a controversial give-and-take about trade school vs. college, insights appeared in the March 6, 2018, Wall Street Journal print edition under the headline: “Trade School Wins Fans Among Teens.” As the article points out, “….the decision to forego a four-year degree runs counter to 30 years of conventional wisdom.”

Some passages from the article:

The friction around the best path forward after high school is popping up around the country as anxious students and families try to figure out how to pay for four years of college. At the same time, business groups and state governments make the case for a free or much cheaper vocational education.

The conversation is being fueled by questions about the declining value of a college degree as well as the rising cost of tuition and student debt. Low unemployment and a strong job market are exacerbating an already growing skills gap, raising prospects for tradespeople like welders who are in high demand.

In 2009, the last year for which data is available, 19% of high-school students were concentrating in vocational subjects, down from 24% in 1990.

Even as more students enroll in college, “40% to 50% of kids never get a college certificate or degree,” said Tony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. And among those who do graduate, about one-third end up in jobs that don’t require a four-year degree.

This has prompted a rethink about the value of colleges and is fueling a separation between the winners and losers in higher education.

You can read the entire article on the WSJ website: Why an Honor Student wants to Skip College and go to Trade School



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