Workforce Summit highlights education-to-employment pipeline

Workforce Summit highlights education-to-employment pipeline Main Photo

27 Sep 2023


Local academic institutions can help solve your business’s workforce needs. That was the message heard by about 80 in attendance at EDASC's Skagit Workforce Summit held Sept. 20 at the Northwest Career & Technical Academy in Mount Vernon. 

The day’s featured presenters from the State Employment Security Department, Northwest Career & Technical Academy, Career Connect Northwest, Skagit Valley College, and Western Washington University. Local business speakers were also woven into the program.

Many students finishing their high school or college degree are ready to go to work, said the speakers, and pathways exist connecting those students with local businesses.

For instance, the Northwest Career & Technical Academy has been partnering with local businesses to create internship opportunities that work for both the students and employers. The program has been successfully gaining interest from the business community, and this year 30 students participated in hands-on internships at about a dozen companies.

Representatives from some of those businesses, including Hexcel, T BAILEY, TRICO Companies and Aspen Power Catamarans, spoke as part of a panel at the Workforce Summit.

Emma Rawls, from steel manufacturing company T BAILEY, INC., said her company found their three interns ready to work, gaining their welding certification within weeks and they also demonstrated the soft skills necessary to be good employees.

“They were showing up on time, and if they weren't showing up on time, they were letting us know ahead of time,” she said.

Chris Kiel, president of general contractor TRICO Companies, said his firm saw the need to invest in its future workforce.

“It was about looking at talent in the area and making the decision that if we expected the workforce to grow here … we had to participate in it from the very beginning,” he said. “I encourage you to get involved because the rewards back to us far outweigh anything we can give.”

Getting students interested in these career tracks early on is vital to creating successful internships and job placements, said Career Connect Northwest’s Jenny Veltri. If children don’t have exposure to the varied careers available to them when they are younger, they might not develop the interest and aptitude to begin focusing their studies.

“The sooner we can start students really thinking about how to connect education with what they want to do for the rest of their life, the better, because it will affect their pathway,” she said.

Internships allow students to bridge theory learned in class with practice they get on the job, said SVC’s Brittney Maruska. And employers get “a chance to shape the workforce” when they work with interns. 

“The overall goal of the college is to grow our own,” she said.

Maruska also highlighted the college’s Customized Training and Job Skills Programs, providing businesses with training opportunities with dollar-for-dollar match incentives.

Students studying at the university level are another resource for businesses. Students within the MBA program at Western Washington University complete a capstone course where teams of students serve as consultants to area businesses looking to solve a specific problem, said WWU’s Lucas Senger. 

A student capstone project developed the idea of value-added products now offered by Bow Hill Blueberries. Today, customers can find Bow Hill Blueberries’ products at their local Haggen and other retail outlets.

“The question [for employers] is ‘Where do we find good people?’” Senger said. “The answer is they’re right here.”

Businesses can also connect to WWU’s Career Services Center to advertise jobs or internships, as well as also hold tabling events to get face time with students or conduct interviews on campus. 

“We can help … employers get in the door, get to know those students,” said WWU’s Career Services Center Executive Director Mindy Pelton. “Do the internship, do the micro internships, so employers are preparing those students, so that when they get in the door they're going to stay.”

The Workforce Summit is part of EDASC's Economic Recovery Plan, funded through ARPA money awarded by Skagit County and its commissioners.