Sequim High School hosted a community forum event for their Career & Technical Education program on Dec. 3, aimed at increasing awareness in the local business community of what’s going on at SHS and introducing a new program that will help the community get better involved: Skillmation, a Port Townsend-based resource program.
Focusing on giving schools and students greater and easier access to skilled volunteers, Skillmation has enjoyed success at Port Townsend High School, according to Sequim High teacher/CTE director Steve Mahitka and Sequim Sunrise Rotary member Kaye Gagnon.
Gagnon works closely with Mahitka to help Sequim High’s CTE programs and helped spearhead the efforts to bring Skillmation to Sequim.
Mahitka noted that the classes are aiming at helping support local companies and industries, emphasizing career fields in Sequim and Clallam County. The hope, he said, is to see locals fill those jobs rather than companies hiring from outside of the area.
“How often do people move to a new city for a job, then go home a year or two later?” Mahitka asked the audience of parents and members of the local business community. “Far too often.”
Career and technical education classes — or vocational trade classes, as they once were known — have been de-emphasized in school districts, Mahitka said. That’s led to large numbers of employees at companies such as Boeing or Olympic Medical Center approaching retirement age with no apparent replacements available.
In the short term, there’s a notable need for employees in trade fields, CTE forum attendees noted. An OMC representative in the audience said the organization could hire 130 people right now if they had the qualified applicants to fill the jobs.
Mahitka also said that the state is forecasting upwards of 740,000 jobs to be created in the state over the next five years, most of which will need skills taught by these CTE classes.
While Washington state is starting to more actively support CTE programs once more, Mahitka noted the process has been slow to build. Still, he said, Sequim is in a position to be ahead of the curve in emphasizing CTE-based classes.
“Our program isn’t just a pathway to the (year after graduation),” Mahitka said. “It’s a pathway to a career.”
That pathway is where Skillmation comes in.
A major component of a successful CTE program, Mahitka suggested, is support from the community. “There’s only so much you can do in the classroom,” he said. “The kids need more.”
Getting more community support is a major component of Sequim High’s School Improvement Plan, but how to make that happen wasn’t clear.
“Other systems (the school district) has had are just lists of volunteers with little other information,” Mahitka said in an interview two weeks before the forum. “You’d have to call them all to see what they can do and if they’re even interested in doing what I need.”
Skillmation aims to make that process better, providing a central website with a list of volunteers who fill out a profile with a list of their fields of expertise and indicate what level of help they can give. That help includes being available for communication, coming into classrooms, full-on mentorships or internships.
Teachers, parents and students can search that list in a sortable format that lets them see exactly what they need.
Before a volunteer’s profile goes on the site — one that should be accessible by February, according to Gagnon — they are vetted and approved by the school district in a process that includes a background check.
“The district will do everything we can to make sure our kids are safe,” interim superintendent Rob Clark said.
“And we’re going to do everything we can to make this work.”
Clark said after the forum that while the district’s provisional plan for CTE classes in the coming year has been approved, there will be a presentation from Mahitka to the school board at the upcoming Jan. 6 school board meeting.
The program will be discussed “at length” then, but Clark is only feeling positively about CTE in the Sequim school district right now.
“I’ve never been involved in a (CTE program) as both detailed and broad-reaching as this,” Clark said.
In the meantime, Mahitka is hoping to have the volunteer profile submission part of the site up soon in order to start allowing interested members of the community to sign up.
“We want to make sure that when this launches, people searching for a mentor or someone to talk to don’t get frustrated because they can’t find anything,” Mahitka said.
“There’s still a lot of moving parts in terms of how we’ll handle internships and what limitations might be on that,” he added, “but other (school) districts have been figuring out how to make that work.
“This is a huge opportunity to do better for our students.”
To learn more about the SHS CTE program or Skillmation, contact Mahitka at smahitka@sequim schools.org.