Over the past few decades we’ve seen a steady decline in career and technical education (CTE) in our schools. From wood working to auto shop, classes that teach vocational skills have fallen by the wayside as cash-strapped schools increasingly focus on preparing kids to pass mandatory tests in the core humanities and sciences. While these subjects are important, they too often come at the expense of other learning opportunities and leave many children unprepared to enter the modern economy.

Here at Hampton, we know very well that a four-year college degree is not the only path to a successful career. While there are a variety of opportunities available to students interested in the trades, too many are leaving school without the skills they need to successfully compete for these in-demand jobs. We experience this skills gap everyday as we try to find qualified applicants for a number of positions at our manufacturing locations but the problem goes far beyond our own operations. By 2025, experts estimate that the skills gap will result in two million unfilled jobs in the manufacturing sector alone.

I believe the private sector has an important role to play in addressing this skills gap. Hampton offers in-house training through our apprenticeship programs, but our mills also do a great job working with local schools and community colleges to enhance workforce training opportunities.

Our Tillamook mill was a founding partner in Tillamook Bay Community College’s Industrial Maintenance Technology (IMT) program to help ensure training at the school is relevant to the needs of the local business community. In Morton, the team works closely with Centralia College and support the school’s technical programs with funding, equipment donations, and employee time and expertise. In Willamina, employees have donated materials, labor, and advice for the high school’s new Career and Technical Education Center.  The Warrenton mill recently partnered with the Astoria School District to get a grant from the State of Oregon to develop a Clatsop County Career and Technical Program for Industrial Electric Repair, Industrial Machinery Mechanics, Millwrighting, Machinery Maintenance, Electrical Vehicle Manufacturing, and Electrical. The project includes development of a mobile training lab and on-the-job opportunities so students can build skills through hands-on learning.

For CTE programs to succeed, companies like ours have to continue to work with schools to provide access to expanded educational experiences.  Last week I met with Washington Governor Jay Inslee and a number of state legislators and shared information about our engagement and investment in CTE and found broad-based support for our efforts. I intend to leverage all the great work Hampton is already doing to encourage state agencies and the private sector to increase investment in CTE going forward. It’s in the best interest of our communities and our company that students have the skills they need to take advantage of the wide variety of career opportunities available to them.

Steve Zika
CEO, Hampton Lumber