Riverside High School set aside a full day Friday for seniors to work on college and scholarship applications, do research on careers and meet with technical education and apprenticeship representatives.
“We just started a college and career readiness program at our school,” said Career and Technical Education director Talana Mielke. “Our district has a real emphasis on a meaningful post-secondary plan.”
The new curriculum starts exposing students to various careers when they are freshmen, Mielke said. “We are just going to inundate them with careers,” she said. “It’s challenging to get 400 kids into a job shadow. Our focus now is bringing the job shadow to them.”
The shift to encouraging students to consider trade careers comes after decades of pushing college attendance. “We don’t need every student going to a university,” she said. “We need kids going into trades. The trades are begging for our kids, and a lot of our kids have an interest.”
Mielke said she put the event together in two weeks after a student suggested setting aside a day for seniors to prepare for their next steps after high school. Many students are busy with homework, sports and extracurricular activities, she said. “We just wanted to carve out time,” she said.
Mielke said she didn’t invite colleges to the event except for Spokane Community College, which offers many trade and technical programs. “I’m all about careers,” she said. “They hear about colleges their entire life. I think a lot of kids are interested in this but they don’t know how to connect with it.”
Senior Cassie Raymond is the one who suggested the event. She said she heard quite a few seniors talking about how they didn’t have the time or resources to do the applications they needed to. She said she was impressed that Mielke immediately ran with the idea and got the teachers to agree to setting aside a day for the event.
“I thought they would be against that because they have to give up their teaching time,” she said.
The district superintendent and school board are very supportive of career and technical education, Mielke said.
“We all need to do our part to get apprenticeships for our kids,” she said. “They make really good money. You have to work hard, show up and have a clean drug test.”
Senior Sutton Squires said he wants to take time off from school after he graduates and earn money before going to college. He appreciated being able to check out different apprenticeship programs.
“It helped me figure out what to do,” he said. “I knew I didn’t want to go do a lot more schoolwork.”
He has taken wood shop all four years in high school and is interested in a carpentry apprenticeship.
“I feel like this apprenticeship would be good for me,” he said. “It’s something I think I could thrive at and not get bored.”
Squires said he’d also like to be able to point to a new building and say he helped build it. “I want to put up buildings that everyone uses,” he said.
He has also thought of becoming a diesel mechanic.
“If I like carpentry a lot, I might stick with that,” he said.
Jerry Beaver was at the event representing the Pacific Northwest Council of Carpenters. The council offers eight different apprenticeship programs, including carpentry, pile driving and millwrights. It is also actively trying to recruit people for the programs.
“We are in a manpower shortage,” he said.
For every five people who retire from the trades, one new worker comes in. “That gets quite difficult,” he said.
Beaver points to the push for students to attend college as one reason there is a shortage of trade workers. He said many apprentices are in their late 20s because they went to college, couldn’t find a job and then turned to the trades to make a living.
An apprenticeship is a tuition-free, four-year program. Students work 40 hours a week and also take classes that they get college credit for, Beaver said. By the time they are done they will only need four classes – English, math, psychology and an elective, to earn an associate’s degree from Spokane Community College, he said.
Pay starts at $17.43 an hour and rises to $28 by the end of the four years. There are also benefits, including health care, a pension and a 401(k) plan.
Sometimes apprentices can earn overtime pay as well.
“The Amazon project in Airway Heights, they’re working 60 hours a week,” he said.
All students need to be an apprentice is a good work ethic, Beaver said.
“Be on time every day, early on time,” he said. “You learn something new every day with us.”
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