Oregon City Service Learning Academy trains on the job
Thirty-six freshman and sophomores from Oregon City Service Learning Academy donned safety vests and hard hats on May 3 to tour a project site with staff from Skanksa USA Building.
The Day of Discovery event, organized and hosted by Skanska Women's Network, took place at a site on MacArthur Boulevard in Vancouver, Washington, where Skanska is overseeing construction of new buildings for Marshall Elementary School and McLoughlin Middle School. The tour was part of a half-day program to introduce students to the careers available in architecture, engineering and construction.
Oregon City Service Learning Academy is a charter school that has been around for more than a decade. The curriculum is designed to help students hone in on possible career paths to follow after they graduate, while also integrating community engagement and service. Students attend regular classes Monday through Thursday, while Fridays are for exploration of careers while also participating in community service activities.
For juniors and seniors, that means spending each term taking part in internships, from working at veterinary clinics to auto repair shops. Freshman and sophomores, meanwhile, visit different companies and learn about possible jobs in those industries. At the same time students visiting Skanska's project site learned how the general contractor's work is benefiting families in Vancouver, for example, a second group was busy learning about careers in forestry while helping plant trees
Amber Page, now an administrative assistant with Skanska, set up the tour for the charter school's students through her involvement with the women's network group. As a graduate of Oregon City Service Learning Academy, she understands the value that comes with companies opening their doors so that students can learn about — and test drive — possible careers. When she was a student at the charter school, Page thought she might be interested in a career as a beautician or as a midwife. Internships at a beauty salon and in a hospital helped her realize those jobs weren't the right fit.
Page eventually moved into positions in the field of aviation before finding her way to construction and her current positions with Skanska. However, having the opportunity to try out different possible jobs taught her that sometimes figuring out what you don't want to do can be just as valuable as finally honing in on a future career path.
"It helped me eliminate a lot of things," Page said.
In addition to offering a chance to see what construction workers actually do, the Skanska visit provided students with a hands-on opportunity to see how technology is changing the way buildings are designed and constructed. The event also featured a panel discussion with an architect, a woman journeyman ironworker, a project manager for an owner's representative, and a project engineer to show students the range of careers available in the building industry — and the varying paths that can be taken on the way to filing those positions.
Bree Smith, a foreman with Raimore Construction, for example, told the students about how life circumstances forced her to leave nursing school before receiving her degree. She eventually found her way into a pre-apprenticeship program run by Oregon Tradeswomen Inc., which helped her enter an apprenticeship and become a journeyman ironworker.
She pointed out to students that a job in the trades is a good fit for those who weren't interested in attending college, offering high pay and opportunities to move from field work to supervisory roles.
"You can grow into whatever you want to be," Smith said.
The importance of being open to change was echoed by Carlos Coleman, a project engineer with Skanska. He started out as an accountant before joining the general contractor. While he enjoys his work — including being a key player in the self-performed concrete work on the school project — he also admitted to the students that he's still open to possibly changing careers in the future.
"If you don't know what career path you want to follow, don't worry," Coleman said. "You have a lot of time. It's not something to stress about."
Aaliyah Madison, 14 and a freshman, had never considered a career in the building industry. But after hearing that an interest in art was something that had drawn panel member Brent Young, an associate principal with LSW Architects, to his profession as an architect, she left the Day of Discovery event interested in looking into design as a possible career option.
"I think being an architect would be fun," she said.
Her friend, 15-year-old Brooklyn Johnson, also thought designing buildings would be an interesting way to earn a living, but not to the point that she was swayed her from her plan to pursue a career playing professional women's basketball.
This was the first time Skanska had students from Oregon City Service Learning Academy on a job site, but Page said there's a good chance they may host more students from the charter school in the future. The general contractor also is planning to host a similar upcoming event, this time at the Sherwood High School job site, for participants in the Girls Inc. program.