Published Monday, May 8, 2023 in the Everett Herald
by Janice Podsada
MONROE — Jose Lopez, a senior at Sultan High School, isn’t sure about going to college, at least not right away.
“College is great, but I’ve looked at how much you can go in debt,” the 18-year-old said.
In search of alternatives, Lopez took part last week in Trade Up, where high school juniors and seniors can learn about apprenticeships and job opportunities from local companies, labor unions and utilities. Of course, there was the equipment on display — from metal-engraving machines to “the claw,” a fire-engine red Kubota KX057 excavator.
Lopez left the event with some new leads. Community Transit mechanic. Cement mason or plasterer apprentice, earning $30 an hour from day one.
“The pay looks good,” Lopez said.
“Until they learn about these jobs — and the wages they can earn — they have no idea how many careers are available to them,” said Charlotte Murry, secretary-treasurer of the Snohomish & Island County Labor Council. The Labor Council and Workforce Snohomish sponsored the event, which was first held in 2014.
This year marked the first regional Trade Up event, drawing students from five east Snohomish County school districts. In the past, it was offered to one school district at a time. The new format reaches more students and makes it easier for exhibitors to attend, Murry said.
Some 200 students from Sultan, Gold Bar, Monroe, Snohomish and Granite Falls school districts attended Trade Up, held at the Livestock Pavilion of the Evergreen State Fairgrounds in Monroe.
Among the exhibitors: the PUD, Snohomish County Public Works, Community Transit, International Union of Operating Engineers, Machinists Institute, the Cement Masons & Plasterers Union and AJAC Advanced Manufacturing Apprenticeships, a nonprofit group offering training.
Students who visited all the exhibitors’ stations, and filled out a “time card,” received a $10 Fred Meyer gift card.
“Always a hit,” Murry said.
For students unsure of what route to take after high school, Trade Up offers a chance to explore the trades and get a sense of what their paycheck, benefits and work day might look like and take home a perk.
In Washington, high school students must have a High School and Beyond Plan to graduate. It’s a state requirement intended to guide their high school experience and prepare them for college, training and career. Trade Up events can help create that plan, organizers said.
For Jessica Eames, a senior at Glacier Peak High School in Snohomish, who hopes to become a mechanical engineer, the event allowed her “to look at the machine side,” she said.
“If I were to work as an engineer, I would need to know how the machinery works,” said Eames, 18, who took a turn at the controls of the excavator — “the claw.”
Not everyone is college-bound. A year’s tuition and expenses at a public college now averages $30,000 or more per year, while private colleges can cost $50,000 a year or more, according to CollegeData.com.
“You can be paying for college or you can take a paying job and be making $30 an hour straight out of high school,” Justin Palachuck, business agent with the Cement Masons and Plasterers Union Local 528, told students. Eligibility for an apprenticeship includes possessing a high school diploma or GED and a valid driver’s license.
And completing an apprenticeship doesn’t take college off the table, said Palachuk, who finished an apprenticeship when he was 21 and then attended college afterward, graduating at age 30.
Union apprenticeships are typically tuition-free. Apprentices with a state-registered apprenticeship program may receive a 50% tuition waiver at a Washington community or technical college. Most apprenticeships are two to five years.
The trades are female- and BIPOC-friendly, Michelene Felker, told students.
Felker is the student services director at the Machinists Institute, a nonprofit training center established by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, District 751.
The Machinists Institute offers manufacturing, automotive and aerospace training. Often there is no cost for training, Felker said. In July, the Institute will offer a pre-apprenticeship class for women.
Based in Tukwila, the institute plans next year to begin offering training in Everett, Felker said.
A Trade Up event in North Snohomish County, encompassing the Marysville, Arlington, Stanwood and Camano school districts, is scheduled for fall. Plans are also afoot for one that would serve the Coupeville, Oak Harbor and South Whidbey school districts, Murry said.
To learn more about apprenticeships, go to the Apprenticeship Registration Tracking System (ARTS). The database lists all registered apprenticeship programs in Washington (you can also search by county) and the requirements for each.