New high school hands-on CTE program in Eugene hopes to spur high-earning careers

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This week marks the seventh annual National Apprenticeship Week, where hands-on, high-earning jobs are recognized, along with the collaboration between industry, businesses, schools and government officials to build that pipeline to the workforce.

© Jordyn Brown / The Register-Guard Haliq Simon, a senior at North Eugene High School, has taken several wood and metal-working classes in high school. He paused from Tuesday from his work on this table he’s spent four weeks creating.

And there’s plenty to celebrate this year. Now more than ever, students have opportunities to earn skills early that will set them ahead of the game in the workforce, as career technical education, known as CTE, experiences a resurgence in schools. Since 2015, Oregon has seen a rise from 716 programs to 1,086 this school year.

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This year, the Eugene School District is doing even more by starting a new program called Future Build. It will provide students with school credit, equipment, job site experience and the chance to build new homes for people in the community who need it most.

Generating enthusiasm  

Lee Kounovsky is the CTE construction trades specialist with Lane Education Service District and an instructor at Lane Community College. He visited with students in an advanced wood and metalworking class at North Eugene High School this week, hoping to get them excited about the program and other paths to trades.

The CTE resurgence: Pipeline to give students career options out of high school expands

“4J bought two lots here in town and we’re going to build a house this year and a house next year,” he told the class. “This house that we’re gonna build, we’ve identified someone in our community, who’s worked their way up from being unhoused, has a stable job and is now looking to buy their first home. We’re gonna build this home for this family.”

© Jordyn Brown / The Register-Guard Lee Kounovsky, CTE construction trades specialist for Lane Education Service District, talks with North Eugene High School student Tyree Osiris on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021.

The district then will sell the house to the family below market value, so they can begin gaining equity, he said. 

The program, which starts this winter trimester, will provide students a chance to work alongside professionals in the trades to build the house while earning credits toward graduation. It’s designed for high school juniors and seniors who commit to two trimesters of spending the last half of their school day at the LCC campus and construction site. 

“4J hasn’t done anything like this in about 20 years,” Kounovsky said.

Students Haliq Simon and Danielle Martin, both seniors, were interested in signing up for the Future Build Program. They’ve both taken multiple wood and metal working classes and see themselves in the trades after high school. 

Martin has plans to be a welder. While Simon is still figuring out what he’d like to do, he is drawn in by metalwork, particularly sword forging, and that has driven him to explore more.

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“I like being out there and problem-solving and putting stuff together,” he said. “I thought it was so cool how they put the metal together and they would bend it into all these cool shapes and the engravings, but then I found out that woodwork is important too, and I’m leaning toward (being) a woodworker. I just love being out there using all the tools.”

And it’s personal for him too. Over the past four weeks, Simon has worked in the advanced wood and metalworking class to build a large dinner table for his family, which he says he plans to give to his parents as an anniversary gift. He’s also made custom cutting boards for his mom.

“I just like the projects that you can come out of here with, like you can make a kitchen table that would cost originally more than $400 dollars for free,” she said. “The skills are really important. I’ve came across a lot of things that I wouldn’t have known if I didn’t take any of these classes.”

© Jordyn Brown / The Register-Guard North Eugene High School Student Cormack Tobin sands down a piece of wood in an advanced woodshop class, Nov. 16, 2021.

Trade jobs quickly earn high wages

But it’s not just wood and metal on the table. There are a variety of options for students in CTE after high school, especially if they see themselves going into a particular trade and use CTE courses and work-studies to get ahead. 

“Right now a (sheetmetal) journeyman after four years makes $45.30 an hour,” Kounovsky told the class.

He proceeded to show the students all the different jobs open and hiring, right now, in Oregon: tile setter, ironworker, cement mason, electrician, sheetmetal worker, to name a few. Students can take their knowledge from CTE, he said, to eventually work on building bridges, welding, painting and even servicing elevators and escalators, all which are high-paying careers.

“I know I want to go into a trade, I just don’t know what to do, because I don’t know if I’m going to want to be an electrician, or maybe I want to do cement,” Simon said. “So my biggest thing I wanted to at least try everything but I never saw a program out there that did that.” The Future Build program appeals to him because “you can basically do every single one over the course of two terms.”

It’s the versatility of pathways, and students’ readiness to create that is driving a CTE recharge, said North Eugene teacher Tyler Tjernlund.

“When I first took over the program there wasn’t much buzz about it, but being able to get students in and give them skills where they feel confident and competent on all the tools, then all of a sudden it takes off,” he said. “Because they’re like, ‘Hey, I want to make this and I know how and I have access to the equipment.’ “

Tjernlund has seen interest increase among all students, regardless of gender. It’s increased so much so that the availability of classes can’t keep up.

“My classes are usually kept around 27 students, and every trimester I have handfuls of students coming in asking if I’d make an exception for them to be in the class,” he said. 

He wants to see more CTE teachers hired so districts can offer even more hands-on teaching and provide more advanced classes for students.

Some trades he’d like to see more CTE courses for are plumbing, and electrical and automotive work, which he said students ask for and thinks it’s the perfect time to bring those back.

“We’re due in society for this type of program to try to be reborn,” Tjernlund said. “In the mid-’90s, shop classes were taken away, and we’re feeling the effects of that right now. That was a horrible decision. And just now we’re like, oh, we do need people to build America, to fix the things that break.

“So with this new reenergized interest in CTE, we’re seeing things grow again. …. I’m happy that now’s the time and I’m around to see it.” 

Contact reporter Jordyn Brown at jbrown@registerguard.com or 541-246-4264, and follow her on Twitter @thejordynbrown and Instagram @registerguard. Support local journalism, subscribe to The Register-Guard.

This article originally appeared on Register-Guard: New high school hands-on CTE program in Eugene hopes to spur high-earning careers

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