Hillsboro Schools, A New Apprenticeship Program Is Being Developed! Good Initiative

Hillsboro’s rising need for entry-level manufacturers has led the city administration, school district, and local industry leaders to collaborate on a new high school apprenticeship program that serves as a channel for fresh young workers.

The Century High School Advanced Manufacturing Apprenticeship prepares juniors and seniors for entry-level manufacturing work in Hillsboro’s significant semiconductor industry.

Local companies like Jireh Semiconductor directly fund the students and hire them after they complete the program.

The students will gain more than 2,000 hours of experience over a two-year period working on real jobs on-site and in the classroom.

Youth apprenticeship project manager Claudia Rizo Mendoza of the Hillsboro School District said, “We started this conversation a few years back, bringing in industry partners to chat with our teachers about their labor needs. “This program was developed to address the requirements that are now present in our community.”

Hillsboro has long been the center of the Silicon Forest, which is home to the largest chip designers and processors in the United States, but in recent years, there has been an increase in competitiveness on a global scale. Politicians responded by passing the CHIPS Act last month to support American semiconductor production, among other measures.

A task committee on semiconductors was recently established by Oregon lawmakers, and it offers legislative recommendations for how the state may continue to be a leader in emerging technology and job possibilities.

The task force’s main suggestion was to expand the pathways available to students for entry-level employment in the industry. By utilizing ties between the school district, city administration, and locally based companies, the new initiative meets that demand.

Cities have a part to play in bridging the gap between business and educational districts, according to Kristi Wilson, the workforce development manager for Hillsboro. “That’s why companies were willing to take the risk … (and) I think there will be lots of other companies taking a look at how this works out.”

This most recent manufacturing initiative is comparable to others established in recent years through collaborations between businesses, the Hillsboro School District, and elected authorities.

Hillsboro Schools, A New Apprenticeship Program Is Being Developed! Good Initiative
Hillsboro Schools, A New Apprenticeship Program Is Being Developed! Good Initiative

The school district also built the Oregon Aerospace Careers for Everyone program, which similarlyΒ trains high schoolersΒ in the skills required to enter the flight industry β€” whether as pilots, engineers, or more on the business side of running an airline.

Hillsboro’s Assistant Superintendent Travis Reiman says the goal of the training programs is to lay the groundwork for future “pipeline programs” tailored to other industries. The four main areas that the Hillsboro School District is focused on are aerospace, semiconductors, health care, and education.

“It’s all about looking at what we know the workforce demand is and looking at how are we positioned to give them the education students need to get there,” Reiman said.

Many companies wouldn’t normally take a chance on young, inexperienced workers, especially if they are dealing with expensive and sensitive devices like the kind that go inside computers.

But the risk is lessened if schools and local government agencies help to find and train students who are already eager to go into a certain sector.

Instead of heading off to a four-year college, students get a hands-on, two-year experience that prepares them for a job right after graduating high school.

Students in the program get a certification from the Bureau of Labor and Industries that allows them to work as manufacturing technicians. Because many of them are minors, that assures they are legally allowed to hold industry jobs.

So far, the manufacturing apprenticeship has six students. All are from Century High School.

District officials say their goal is to expand the apprenticeship to multiple schools and to get a diverse range of students to join. Women are traditionally underrepresented in the high-tech industry, as are Black and Latino workers β€” something educators, advocates, and even many business leaders say they would like to change.

As with the O-ACE program, businesses know that they can fill the demand for workers if they attract more women and people of color to the industry. That takes time, Reiman said, and it takes people who already know a little about what it’s like to go through Hillsboro’s program.

“All of our industry partners have diversity, equity, and inclusion goals,” Reiman said. “And in order for them to achieve their goals … we need ways to put support into the system so that students can see themselves in the profession of their choice and to make sure that students have the support they need to be successful in their entry into that profession.”

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