How Oregon Works: All Hands Raised blazes pathways to living wage construction jobs (Portland Business Journal, September 2018)

Posted on September 11, 2018 in Media Coverage

By Suzanne Stevens

Read the story below and here.

The Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters is taking a hands-on approach when it comes to attracting young people to the profession.

In May, the union flew a delegation of 25 educators and nonprofit partners to Las Vegas for a tour of the Carpenters International Training Center. The plan: to demonstrate to teachers, councilors and administrators that the trades are a viable career option for Oregon high school students, particularly those students who aren’t interested in or well-suited for a traditional college experience.

The tour was organized in collaboration with All Hands Raised, a Portland nonprofit that works to address racial inequity in schools and to provide pathways for students to living wage jobs. For the past three years, All Hands Raised has been working with high schools to build awareness about the high-paying job opportunities available in construction and the trades. We spoke with Nate Waas Shull, vice president of partnerships at All Hands Raised, about efforts to connect students with post-secondary alternatives to college. 

We know there is a social and education mindset that kids should go to college, a “mental model” that has gained ground as vocational training in schools has declined. How has that played out locally?
(Data shows) that 78 percent of high school graduates in Multnomah County go to college; just 37 percent of them graduate. A key driver of that is that kids are getting to college and getting overwhelmed. They need to make money, and so they drop out with huge debt.

How much opportunity is there in construction and the trades as an alternative? 
The average age of a construction apprentice is 28. There’s no reason it shouldn’t be 20. Our partners at the Pacific Northwest Carpenters Institute are very clear they want to drive down that age. They are the training wing of the Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters, which is the union.

Talk about the educators trip to Las Vegas and how that is helping illuminate opportunities?
The idea was to showcase the International Carpenters Training Institute. Every union apprentice does a cycle through there. The union flies them out and they get training. The carpenters here, they underwrote the trip. It’s the upstream strategy they’re working on to attract more young people. It is changing the hearts and minds of educators in order to expose kids to these phenomenal
career opportunities.

That doesn’t seem like it would be a hard sell, particularly when counseling students who might not be suited to a four-year college degree.
It’s not hard to turn the light bulb on, but it does take exposure and that’s where our signature event, Industry For a Day, comes in. We’ve taken 350 teachers out to active construction sites. Once they have the hands-on exposure, it turns the light on. That’s the head level. But at the heart level, there’s still this deeply held belief that, if it were my kid, I’d rather they go to college.

You also work directly with high schools to help align curriculums with industry needs. What’s the latest?
We’ve been working with Reynolds and Centennial High School (for three years), and this year we added Sam Barlow High School and Helensview School. We deploy our staff to these sites to help move them through a continuous improvement process. There are targets to measure, such as increasing the number of girls taking part in the construction programs. We bring them their data. We show them in black and white (how they’re performing). We are helping schools calibrate to industry needs. How do we take what we’re doing in high school and reshape it so it speaks directly to what industry needs?

Can you share an example?
We have helped connect the carpenters union training center with Reynolds High School, and they are in the process of aligning the curriculum with what the carpenters say they need. Reynolds is also launching a pre-approved program for HVAC that will live in the high school. Reynolds is embedding that into their metals courses. It’s a pre-apprenticeship program. It’s about getting students ready to be accepted into an apprenticeship program.