Career training schools stay focused on need

Local technical programs & vocational schools lean on business partnerships, hands-on experience

Partners in Careers

From technical programs to vocational schools, students in Clark County have a variety of career path options for employment, training and education. And with student loan debt at an all-time high (the average balance is $29,000, according to Equifax), options to help cut the cost of education are more important than ever.

One of those options is the Clark County Skills Center, which provides high school students throughout the community with hands-on technical training for programs in more than 15 fields of interest. Students can begin studying towards a certificated program as early as their junior year in high school. By the time these students graduate from high school, they will have already had the opportunity to earn college credit and complete a program that gives them a sort of “fast-forward,” into their chosen career. Students can choose to enter the workforce with industry certification or continue their education at a post-secondary institution.

Dennis Kampe, development director at the Skills Center, has been there from the very beginning – when the center opened in 1983.

“It is our goal to prepare all students with the relevant skills, knowledge, learning and education so that they can go out there and work in the community, or really get a job anywhere in the nation,” he said.

“There is a growing shortage of skilled workers and unfulfilled jobs out there,” Kampe added. “27 million jobs are unfulfilled because [employers] cannot find or fill the technical jobs. We are going to lose manufacturing, business and technical jobs to other countries where they are skilled. This is why it is so important to prepare and educate the students within our community. 67 percent of our graduates are working and/or continuing their education related to their education program from the Skills Center.”

Helping kids stay in school and graduate is a large part of the focus at Partners in Careers, a Vancouver-based nonprofit. The organization moves students toward technical training programs, college and job placement employment opportunities. Students in their YouthFirst program, for example, have an 84 percent high school graduation rate.

“We work with over 120 businesses that allow YouthFirst students to gain work experience in their companies,” said Sharon Pesut, executive director at Partners in Careers. “We engage over 200 community members on an annual basis as volunteer mentors, mock interviewers and guest speakers that educate and inspire our students.”

Local businesses play a critical role in the success of these local programs. At the Skills Center, more than 250 business and industry professionals serve on a variety of advisory committees. In turn, students spend time working out in the community as part of their training.

Like the Skills Center and Partners in Careers, post-high school technical and trade school programs work with partners within the community to help place workers.

“The ‘externship’ part of our program here at Everest College allows the student to be out in their selected field where they get real world experience,” shared Renee Schiffhauer, director of admissions for Everest College, which has a location in Vancouver. “They have the advantage of shadowing and training in a real job setting. It is ideal as an on-site interviewing process for both the student and the employer. 60 percent of our graduates are placed upon graduation, as part of what we do is help with job placement.”

Schiffhauer noted that the average age of an Everest College student is 35. Some students, she said, attend after completing a Skills Center program; others are from as far as Woodland or White Salmon.

“Where an associate’s degree can take five years, our programs can take less than a year,” said Schiffhauer. “Our medical assistant program is 10 months; the medical administrative assistant program is eight months; and the massage therapy program is nine months. Our programs are full-time and also include the hands-on externship training as part of the curriculum. Our students graduate with the skills, training, licensing and certification they need to begin working right away.”

Vancouver’s Charter College provides a similar option for students seeking an accelerated program.

“We see a lot of students who are coming to us searching for a new career path,” said Charter College President Boyd Hemminger. “Wanting a better lifestyle for their families and a career that they can learn and achieve in a short amount of time is the goal. Our programs are accelerated and our students are serious about what they want. We see moms going back to work, re-joining the workforce after being home raising children, and many people who have had a job loss and recognize that they need or want to change their career direction.”

Hemminger explained that the current pool of jobseekers don’t, for the most part, lack a diploma. As a result, he said workers are turning to fast-paced training programs to enhance their skills to be more competitive and to get into the workforce sooner.

Kempe noted that it is important for trade schools and certificate programs in the region to continue to focus on the jobs that are available, but not being filled.

“We open our programs here at the Skill Center based on the jobs out there,” he said. “We look at the environment and what the community needs are. We just added two new programs in aviation technology and homeland security, and we have also added two new building to our campus. We have more than 1,000 students who are earning college credits and receiving this training for free. The college tuition savings to families in 2013-2014 was $341,000. This saves a lot of money for families and time for the student.”

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