“If you don’t give them paper and a pen you’re not going to find the artists of the future.” This is the simple way that Ben Bagherpour explains the very important purpose of Washington’s newest Center of Excellence – the Center of Excellence for Semiconductors & Electronic Manufacturing – that is right here in Vancouver.
Bagherpour, who is chair of the Southwest Washington High Technology Council (HTC), is also vice president of site services and government affairs at SEH America, and also serves on the Board for Community and Technical Colleges. A driving force behind the creation of a Center of Excellence in the Vancouver area, Bagherpour there are two main reasons that there was a need for a center of this type in Clark County.
“We have nine different (high-tech) companies that make up the HTC,” Bagherpour said. “Although all of them are manufacturing companies, they still all have different needs. So, over the past several years, all of these companies have had to spend time and resources to contact the different K-12 school districts, Clark College and other higher education institutions in order to let them know what they need, and it gets timely and confusing. So, the first reason to create (the Center of Excellence) is so it can be one place these companies can go and find people with the skills they need.”
“Second, the Center aims to become the intermediary between the HTC, the school districts and higher education,” Bagherpour continued. “We can spend the time to understand the specific needs and skills, and put all those together. Through the Center of Excellence, we can find the common themes and skills needed, and work with the schools, look at their CTE programs, what is offered, how they can improve, how the curriculum can be enhanced, etc.”
The new center, which is operating under the leadership of the Center of Excellence for Aerospace & Advanced Manufacturing at Everett Community College, will pair industry leaders and colleges to train students for in-demand jobs and create a highly skilled workforce for new and growing businesses. But the goal, Bagherpour said, is to start even earlier than college-age students, aiming for the Center to be a pipeline from K-12, to Clark and/or WSU Vancouver, to the workforce.
“This is a pipeline we want to create for the future,” he said. “In K-12, students can find out what they need to do for these jobs, their counselors can be able to tell them what courses they need to take. Then they would have the opportunity for job shadowing/internships. There are some students who do not want to go the four-year path, and they need to know what other great opportunities there are for them out there.”
Bagherpour said he has often heard from many businesses that they have a difficult time finding the right skilled workforce, and many of the skills that are lacking are ones that can be taught in K-12 classes, such as critical thinking, problem solving, flexibility and teamwork.
To lead the Vancouver Center of Excellence, the Center of Excellence in Everett hired Mohammed Maraee as an associate director. In the past Maraee worked for the Oregon Manufacturing Innovation Center, and also taught business administration at Portland Community College.
“I was really attracted to the vision (of the Center of Excellence), what we’re trying to do,” Maraee said. “We are really trying to promote more exposure for the K-12 students. We want to get all of the K-12 people on board – CTE directors, teachers, superintendents, etc. And we want to coordinate with all of the HTC companies and get the students out to visit their locations. We want the students to be able to get all of the pertinent information about those companies – pay rate, how long it will take to advance and grow, all of that information.”
“This will help inform and sell (these jobs) to the students and to the parents,” Maraee continued. “We want to make sure these kids know what is available to them. Most wrong decisions are made from misinformation. We want to make sure the students know all of the opportunities they have. Once we create this pipeline, it will help economic stability and growth in the area.”
Bagherpour reiterated how important it is to make sure not only the students, but also the parents are aware that these different jobs are available in the community.
“We want to tap into that big percentage of kids who drop out, who don’t go on after high school,” Bagherpour said. “We want to open the doors for these students.”
Bagherpour said the creation of the Center here in Vancouver is “about a two-year project.” He said Maraee has been first meeting with HTC leadership, and will then begin meeting with other manufacturing businesses in the area in order to define the skills that are needed. From there, he will begin meeting with K-12 CTE directors, teachers and superintendents, and then the leadership at Clark College and WSU Vancouver.
Bagherpour said they plan to give an update on the progress during a December meeting of the HTC.
The Washington State Legislature provided $300,000 in the 2019-2021 state budget for the new center at the request of the HTC. The new Center of Excellence is located at Educational Service District 112 with office space at Clark College. It is one of 11 centers in Washington state, which serve as statewide liaisons representing the needs and interests of specific industry sectors. Through an ongoing investment, centers are charged with narrowing the gap between employer workforce needs and the colleges’ supply of work-ready graduates.