Wesley Bushnell works on a welding project at the Workforce Development Center in the vocational education building at Kenai Central High School.
Photo by Will Morrow
On any given day of the week, the Workforce Development Center at Kenai Central High School is a bustle of activity.
In the morning, sparks fly in the welding shop while other students work on drafting projects in the computer lab. After lunch, buses arrive with students from Soldotna, Skyview and Nikiski for a construction program.
The mission of the Workforce Development Center is to provide high school students with the advanced training necessary to enter the workforce, and the program launched this year with a focus on “high growth, high wage, high demand” occupations said Walt Ward, the school district’s work experience and workforce coordinator.
Ward said the workforce development concept has been around for quite a while, and in the past, a variety of evening classes have been offered in partnership with Kenai Peninsula College. The certified nursing assistant program has been particularly popular, Ward said, because students who earn their CNA certificate can immediately enter the workforce.
With the launch of the Workforce Development Center, training now is offered during the school day, providing an opportunity for more students to participate in the program.
“That was a critical component,” Ward said. “Another piece is transportation. Transportation has always been a bugger, but we were able to get a grant from the Department of Labor to provide transportation.”
Programs at the Workforce Development Center are offered to high school juniors and seniors who have completed the required prerequisite classes. Students at Kenai Central, Soldotna, Skyview and Nikiski, as well as Kenai Alternative and Connections home-school students, can take workforce development classes. When they complete their training at the center, students will receive college tech-prep credit or a certificate of employability.
One of the highlights at the center this year is the National Center for Construction and Education Research program, through which students can earn a nationally-recognized certificate.
The curriculum covers all aspects of the construction industry, from the required math skills to safety standards to how to have a successful job interview.
“Once the kids get that certificate, it’s good anywhere in the U.S.,” Ward said.
The Workforce Development Center also is collaborating with Training and Life Skill Education to Nurture Transition Students (TALENTS), a program to assist students interested in construction, mining, oil and gas, and transportation trades.
Workforce Development Center students get a once-a-week visit for advice on things like putting together a resume and developing positive work ethic, fulfilling the employability aspect of NCCER certification.
By establishing the program in a centralized location, and coming up with ways to involve more students, the district has been able to create a big enough pool of participants to make offering the advanced training possible.
“Rather than duplicate facilities, we can pull people together and have this type of training,” Ward said.
Tanner Waterbury, a Soldotna High School student, demonstrates ladder safety during a building trades class at the center.
Photo by Will Morrow
While the Workforce Development Center’s current offerings include welding, drafting, building trades and power mechanics, Ward said he’d like to see the program expand into other career fields, with centers established at other peninsula high schools.
For example, Soldotna would be a good location for a healthcare program, while Nikiski would be an ideal spot for process technology, and anything related to the oil and gas industry.
“Right now, this is a start. We don’t want to lose the beginning-level, feeder classes (at each school). We want those students to come here for advanced classes, college credit and their NCCER certification,” Ward said.
The drafting program currently is offered to district schools through distance delivery students at Seldovia and Voznesenka, for example, are participating in that course and efforts are under way to do as much distance delivery as possible in the future.
Industry partnerships also have benefited the Workforce Development Center. Ward said the oversight committee includes representatives from ConocoPhillips and Peak Oilfield Services, the Peninsula Homebuilders Association, NAPA auto parts, as well as Native associations.
“They’re partners in helping in the direction we go, with supplies, and ideally, with employment for students who leave here,” Ward said..
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