More than 2,300 students from 52 high schools in the South Puget Sound filled the Showplex at the Washington State Fairgrounds last week for Pierce County Career Day, and they got hands-on opportunities in the construction, manufacturing, utilities and transportation industries.
“It’s very cool,” said Phil Ciesiulka, director of business development for United States Gypsum, a building materials manufacturer that has offices in Auburn and Rainier. “It’s cool to see the excitement of the kids, and see them getting into it. They’re working as teams, and their school spirit is coming through.”
Ciesiulka traveled from USG’s corporate headquarters in Chicago to attend career day for the first time. USG sponsored a $750 scholarship for one male and one female student this year to seek higher education at a community or technical college, or to fulfill an apprenticeship program.
Ciesiulka observed a handful of students who set tile, the hands-on exercise USG provided.
Workforce Central’s Construction Partnership started career day in 2007 as employers in the trades began to see a decline in talent coming into the industry. Marta Gronlund, communications director for Workforce Central, said the recession hit in 2008, but employers stayed committed to the mission of career day. The in-kind time and equipment donated to the event is valued at $275,000, Gronlund said.
“And now, these jobs are finally picking up, especially in construction,” Gronlund said.
Kristi Grassman, a sector initiatives specialist at WorkForce Central who organizes the event, said the apprenticeship community wanted one big place to reach out to students.
One hundred thirty exhibitors, including Boeing, Puget Sound Energy and the Washington State Patrol, flooded the large Showplex. There were dozens of community and technical colleges from across the region, including Pierce College and Clover Park and Bates technical colleges. Central Washington University was the lone four-year institution on site.
Grassman thanked industry support and sponsorships that make the annual event possible. The presenting sponsor was the Washington Laborers-Employers Cooperation and Education Team (WALACET), which contributed $10,000. Diamond sponsors who gave $5,000 were Tacoma Public Utilities, America’s Building Trades Unions, the Puyallup Tribe of Indians and the City of Tacoma.
Mark Halvorson, executive director of WALECET, said a goal of the nonprofit labor management entity is to bring vocational education back into the public education system.
“Over the last 30 years, vocational education has been stripped out of public schools because of the elitist attitude that every student has to go to college,” Halvorson said. “(Pierce County Career Day) provides that experience that is not in the school environment.”
Halvorson said WALECET has started to see that trend reverse in recent years.
“Educators are seeing the value of having vocational education options in schools,” he said.
But more work needs to be done, Halvorson said.
Alex Svensson, a senior at Rogers High School in Puyallup, said his school is lucky in that respect.
“Rogers High School is very fortunate,” Svensson said. “We have shop, drafting and architectural classes offered.”
At career day, Svensson led a team to design and build a dog house prior to the event and entered it into a contest that started last year. Svensson’s team won first place last year for their Dr. Seuss-inspired creation.
There were nine entries from various high schools this year. Svensson described his team’s dog house as a “true Northwest design.”
“It has a true back-home feel,” he said.
The inside of the dog house, made of sustainable plywood, was lined with red flannel. The exterior was painted in pastel blue color for a more retro design.
“We don’t just build a dog house,” Svensson said. “We build a better dog house — something different and unusual.”
Svensson said he was confident his team would win again.
The winning dog house will be featured in the February/March edition of South Sound Magazine.
Svensson has been accepted at Washington State University and plans to major in mechanical engineering.
Reporter Andrew Fickes can be reached at 253-552-7001 or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @herald_andrew.