Area high schools work toward filling skilled labor openings


Clark County High schools have been implementing more Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs in recent decades, but workforce demand only continues to grow.

North Clark County high schools are helping to fill the rising need in Southwest Washington by providing educational programs for skilled labor pathways. Three high schools are planning  construction trades buildings, with Ridgefield High School achieving the feat first, and La Center and Battle Ground high schools finishing theirs in the near future.

Construction leads all projected jobs in Southwest Washington with an average of 2,600 openings per year, according to the Washington State Employment Security Department.

A growing need for skilled workers

With 2,600 openings per year on average in Southwest Washington, a greater need to fill the openings is approaching.

“Another opportunity for the students is that the average age of a trade worker in the United States is 57 years old. For every five that are retiring, only one is being replaced,” said Douglas Greene, Entrepreneurial Lecturer and CTE advocate from Vancouver. “So those opportunities are unbelievable, and the wonderful thing about it is that there are no restrictions when someone pursues a skilled trades career, no advanced degrees are needed. It’s gender neutral. It’s color blind, and the skills are transportable. You can go from one state to another state …”

Across the United States, Greene added that there are more than 1 million job openings in the skilled trades.

Projects that will be funded by the recently passed $1.8 trillion federal bill for infrastructure will also need skilled trade workers, Greene said. Along with infrastructure projects nationwide, skilled labor is needed to solve the housing shortage.

“We have a residential housing shortage that’s close to 7 million nationwide,” Greene said. “The state of Washington is short 350,000 units, Oregon, 225,000 units, California, 3.5 million units.”

Ridgefield High   School’s construction trades building

Ridgefield High School opened its new construction trades building thanks to a donation by Greene.

“This momentous occasion marks a significant milestone in our commitment to providing exceptional education and training in the construction trades,” said Tiffany Gould, director of college, career, and technical education and federal programs, during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new building, Thursday, Feb. 22. “I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to our partner Doug Greene, whose generous donation made this dream a reality. There would not be a construction trades building without his donation of over $125,000.”

Gould mentioned the construction careers’ promising future during the ceremony.

“A key aspect of CCTE — College, Career, Technical Education — is the focus on pathways that lead to high demand, high wage jobs by aligning student learning with the needs of our local economy,” Gould said. “We are ensuring that our students are prepared for construction careers here in our community. Also, where there is a significant need, this is a high demand career opportunity. So we are helping to meet that need and I am super excited about that.”

The building will be utilized by students to learn real world construction skills. Last year, Gould said students in the program built a shed in their previous shop, but the space was crowded with just one shed. The new space will allow for students to eventually build tiny homes, Gould said.

Battle Ground Public Schools numerous CTE opportunities

With the Battle Ground Public Schools’ capital levy passing this month, Battle Ground High School will add a construction trades building of its own.

The district’s high schools currently offer an extensive CTE class list within six pathways. Of the six pathways, the skilled, technical and engineering sector has one of the greatest needs for workers. The district offers six sub-career options under the skilled sector umbrella. Wood design/construction trades, welding/machining and engineering/manufacturing are leading with an average of 4,000 annual job openings in Southwest Washington, as projected by the Washington State Employment Security Department.

During a school day, Cindy Arnold, Battle Ground Public Schools career and technical education director, believes the district has over 200 CTE classes taking place at any given time.

“With all of our classes and career and technical education, we have industry partners that work with us, and we have several industry partners that work with us in our construction trades area. So those are local businesses that are telling us there is a high demand for workers in the construction trades area,” Arnold said. “Well, there’s people retiring, and there’s not enough people to replace those jobs. And just look at Battle Ground. Look at all the housing that’s going in, right? We have housing going in. We don’t have enough workers.”

The funding from the approved levy will upgrade CTE classrooms and create a covered space for Battle Ground High School’s construction trades program.

Woodland Public Schools to host pre-electrician program

Woodland Public Schools recently announced it will begin offering the Cascadia Technical Academy’s pre-electrician program to juniors and seniors from Woodland and surrounding school districts next fall.

The pre-electrician program will be offered to students from Kalama, La Center, Ridgefield and Woodland school districts starting with the 2024-25 school year.

The pre-electrician program qualifies as a pathway to graduation where students will learn the residential and commercial electric codes, wiring and motor controls, electrical theory and how to read blueprints, according to a press release by Woodland Public Schools.

The demand for electricians is expected to grow in the coming years due to the increasing need for skilled workers in the renewable energy sector and the ongoing maintenance of existing electrical systems, the release added. Additionally, becoming an electrician provides graduates with an avenue to higher-paying career opportunities, as well as the potential to become entrepreneurs and run their own businesses.

By partnering to launch the program, Woodland Public Schools and Cascadia Technical Academy can reach more students throughout Clark and Cowlitz counties.

“In an era where education is evolving rapidly, collaborative efforts between educational institutions and community organizations are crucial,” Woodland Public Schools assistant superintendent Asha Riley said in the release. “Our partnership with Cascadia Technical Academy holds immense promise to provide specialized programs for students throughout Cowlitz County.”

La Center High School continues expanding opportunities

La Center High School will be the next beneficiary of a construction trades building by Greene while it continues to expand career pathway education programs.

La Center School District Superintendent Peter Rosenkranz said he has a goal for La Center’s CTE programs.

“So, my whole goal is that we have kids career-ready by grade 13. … It just simply means that when they graduate, they can be actually paid to learn as opposed to paying to learn,” he said. “Last year, I had multiple kids graduate on Saturday [and] go to work on Monday because they had a job already. So this just accelerates that …”

La Center High School’s construction trades program will also build a shed kit in its current shop, Rosenkranz said. With Greene donating funds to La Center High School, Rosenkranz is looking forward to the space for students to call their own and a facility that meets industry needs.

“We’re starting with framing, plumbing — hopefully electrical, and then we are expanding our CTE programs into culinary, some technology components, science and other areas within CTE, as well,” Rosenkranz said of La Center’s CTE offerings.

With La Center offering both “blue collar” and “white collar” career pathways, Rosenkranz and the district are striving to give students more choices.

“The kids don’t have collars yet. So, depending on the path they choose, whether they end up blue collar or white collar, that’s their choice,” he said. “We’ve expanded graduation pathways. So along with the CTE expansion, we’ve done an [advanced placement] expansion that went from three classes to nine AP classes. So last year, I had 20 AP exams given at the high school. This year, I’ll have 230.”