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Career and Technical Education programs are crucial to the future of the construction industry

PMG FILE PHOTO - The need for Career Technical Education courses is more prevalent now than ever before.There is a nationwide shortage of skilled tradespeople, and that void will continue to grow as the current workforce retires.

For the past 30 years, career and technical education has eroded in the K-12 education system in Oregon. This erosion has eliminated a vital opportunity to expose high school students to the skilled trades and the careers they offer.PMG FILE - Mike Salsgiver

Statewide, students who take at least one career technical (CTE) class graduate at a much higher rate than the state average. In 2016, Oregon voters passed Measure 98, which required state funding for CTE, dropout prevention strategies, and expanding college-level courses in high schools. For the construction industry, and other sectors reliant on skilled trades workers, this was an exciting development.

During the first cycle of funding, which included the 2017-2019 school years, the Oregon Department of Education distributed $170 million — only 57% of the intended funding the measure was awarded. As written, Measure 98 gave school districts local control to decide how best to prioritize the three options (CTE, dropout prevention, and college course offerings) and spend the money in their respective districts.

Approximately one-third of the $170 million went to support career and technical education programs. Some school districts chose to hire college and career coaches or CTE administrators, while others used the funds for more intensive dropout prevention measures like increased attendance monitors.

There are several ways Measure 98 has been used to support industry career awareness. One example is Associated General Contractors and Willamette Education Service District's award-winning Educator Externship Program. This program takes school counselors, administrators, and educators from all disciplines and grades through an eight-day overview of construction from design to build, and pre-apprenticeship to master's degree. Educators do site tours, projects, employee and company owner interviews, and job shadows, which showcase the various careers available in construction and support industries. The educators then return to their classrooms and counseling offices, informing students of career options and employability skills. In addition to the knowledge gained, the participants receive graduate or professional development credit, or CTE licensure hours through their local university.

This year, 123 educators from Oregon and Southwest Washington were able to participate in this program using various funding mechanisms, including some schools' Measure 98 funding. Only about 10% of the educators were funded through Measure 98, but this program is just one example of how the industry can partner with educators and leverage career and technical funds to develop a future workforce.

While the Educator Externship illustrates the importance of informing educators about the construction industry, AGC also understands that CTE programs are at their best when the teachers and students can connect directly with industry. In addition to connections initiated through the Externship program, AGC helped facilitate the development of two construction-related partnerships during the 2018-19 school year that built relationships between construction companies and classrooms.

Gresham-Barlow School District piloted an educator-industry exchange with AGC members Fortis Construction Inc. and Lease Crutcher Lewis, LLC, the firms working on bond-funded construction projects in the district. Employees from both construction firms were brought into classrooms across the district to integrate career exposure into academic learning. This included design competitions at the elementary and middle school level. Additionally, at the high school level, CTE- focused marketing and construction classes completed real-world projects that connected to classroom learning.

In the Portland Public School District, AGC connected general contractor Walsh Construction Co. with the construction program at Benson Polytechnical High School, while Andersen Construction Company, Inc. partnered with Roosevelt High School. The goals of this project are to create intentional partnerships that improve alignment between curriculum and industry, and to support a higher number of graduates pursuing construction as a career choice upon graduation.

This summer, with the passage of the Student Success Act, Measure 98 will receive full funding — approximately $303 million for the 2019-21 biennium. Schools across Oregon will now have more funds to support career and technical education. A fully funded Measure 98 is an excellent opportunity for construction and other career-focused industries to leverage funding and increase attention on CTE programs, like the industry-education partnerships described above.

These programs are vital to creating robust and meaningful CTE student and teacher experiences. There is a shortage of skilled trades workers now, and that shortage will continue to grow. AGC is committed to connecting industry with schools to make more career-related information available for the future skilled trades workforce.

Mike Salsgiver is the executive director of the Associated General Contractors, Oregon-Columbia Chapter. He can be reached at 503-685-8305 or by email at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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