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Students train for two years for entry-level jobs in Hillsboro's growing semiconductor industry.

COURTESY PHOTO: HILLSBORO SCHOOL DISTRICT - Students from Century High School tour Jireh Semiconductor in Hillsboro this summer as they consider joining the school district's new Hillsboro Advanced Manufacturing Apprenticeship program.

Hillsboro's growing demand for entry-level manufacturers has prompted the city government, school district and local business leaders to partner on a new high school apprenticeship program that's a pipeline for new young workers.

The Advanced Manufacturing Apprenticeship, offered through Century High School, trains juniors and seniors in how to do entry-level manufacturing work for Hillsboro's large semiconductor industry.

Local businesses like Jireh Semiconductor sponsor the students directly, bringing them on as an employee when they start the program.

Over two years, the students will get more than 2,000 hours of experience, both inside the classroom and on-site while performing the actual functions of a job.

"We started this conversation a few years back, bringing in industry partners to talk with our teachers about their workforce needs," said the Hillsboro School District's youth apprenticeship project manager, Claudia Rizo Mendoza. "(We've built this program) to target those needs that currently exist in our community."

The announcement Monday, Aug. 29, came as Oregon is looking to bolster its semiconductor industry.

While Hillsboro has long been the heart of the Silicon Forest that houses America's biggest computer chip designers and processors, global competition has grown in the past few decades. That has prompted political action, like the CHIPS Act that Congress passed last month to subsidize U.S. semiconductor manufacturing.

Oregon lawmakers also recently formed a semiconductor task force, which makes policy recommendations for how Oregon can stay at the forefront of new technologies and employment opportunities.

One of the task force's chief recommendations was creating more pipelines for students to get into the industry at the ground level. The new program fulfills that need by using connections between the school district, city government and locally based businesses.

"Cities have a role to play to bridge that industry and school district connection," said Hillsboro workforce development manager Kristi Wilson. "That's why companies were willing to take the risk … (and) I think there will be lots of other companies taking a look at how this works out."

This latest manufacturing program is similar to others formed in partnership between businesses, the Hillsboro School District and government officials over the past few years.

The school district also built the Oregon Aerospace Careers for Everyone program, which similarly trains high schoolers in the skills required to enter the flight industry — whether as pilots, engineers, or more on the business side of running an airline.

Assistant Superintendent Travis Reiman says the goal of the training programs is to lay the groundwork for future "pipeline programs" tailored to other industries. The four main areas that the Hillsboro School District is focused on are aerospace, semiconductors, health care and education.

"It's all about looking at what we know the workforce demand is and looking at how are we positioned to give them the education students need to get there," Reiman said.

Many companies wouldn't normally take a chance on young, inexperienced workers, especially if they are dealing with expensive and sensitive devices like the kind that go inside computers.

But the risk is lessened if schools and local government agencies help to find and train students who are already eager to go into a certain sector.

Instead of heading off to a four-year college, students get a hands-on, two-year experience that prepares them for a job right after graduating high school.

Students in the program get a certification from the Bureau of Labor and Industries that allows them to work as a manufacturing technician. Because many of them are minors, that assures they are legally allowed to hold industry jobs.

So far, the manufacturing apprenticeship has six students. All are from Century High School.

District officials say their goal is to expand the apprenticeship to multiple schools and to get a diverse range of students to join. Women are traditionally underrepresented in the high-tech industry, as are Black and Latino workers — something educators, advocates and even many business leaders say they would like to change.

As with the O-ACE program, businesses know that they can fill the demand for workers if they attract more women and people of color to the industry. That takes time, Reiman said, and it takes people who already know a little about what it's like to go through Hillsboro's program.

"All of our industry partners have diversity, equity and inclusion goals," Reiman said. "And in order for them to achieve their goals … we need ways to put supports into the system so that students can see themselves in the profession of their choice and to make sure that students have the support they need to be successful in their entry into that profession."

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