Whatcom County, like the rest of the United States, is experiencing an employment crisis. Many great jobs are going unfilled because there simply aren’t enough workers seeking employment in the trades.

Jobs are out there, and a four-year degree isn’t necessary to get started on a high-wage career path.

In Washington state, for example, electricians make an average wage of $33 per hour, or just under $70,000 per year, according to data from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. They top out at around $100,000 per year. Heavy equipment mechanics bring in more than $53,000, on average, while the median salary for plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters is $58,000.

That’s good money, even if you don’t factor in the savings from not needing to pay university-level tuition.

Local organizations make workforce development a priority

Whatcom Business Alliance, a nonprofit membership organization, works to promote local business success and community prosperity in positive ways. In early 2018, WBA began an effort to bring attention to the importance of local workforce development, engaging with employers, educators, parents and other stakeholders.

One of the ways WBA plans to address workforce development is through its newly launched YESWhatcom.com recruitment portal, which aspires to help Whatcom County employers meet workforce needs while assisting local youth and other emergent workers in developing valuable career skills.

YES Whatcom was designed to connect local workers to some of the many paths to a great career, including trade jobs, apprenticeships, immersive learning opportunities, the Junior Achievement job shadow system and more. Operating under the umbrella of WBA’s Youth Engagement Initiative, YES Whatcom also aims to ensure that businesses have access to templates for creating their own internships and that schools have the information they need to direct youth to quick-start career options after high school.

A business-driven solution to workforce development

Paid training is part of the culture at Birch Equipment

Bellingham-based Birch Equipment has been building its workforce for years through extensive training and opportunities for development and advancement. Company leaders see great advantage in working with Whatcom Business Alliance on programs such as this, said Cara Buckingham, Birch Equipment’s information director.

“Both the Youth Engagement Initiative and YES Whatcom are business-driven,” Buckingham said. “They highlight the magic of entrepreneurship and the dynamic work cultures that have always been positive forces in our community and state.”

Through the platform, businesses should be able to build direct relationships with area school districts to find innovative ways to prepare, train and attract up-and-coming talent.

“A lot of energy is being spent to educate kids and families about diverse career pathways and to spread the word about the depth of local opportunities for jobs, apprenticeships, work-based learning programs and more,” Buckingham said.

June 20 community meeting set to share YES Whatcom goals

Educators, business representatives, parents, students and other interested individuals are invited to an informational meeting at 10 a.m. Thursday, June 20, to learn more about the YES Whatcom program and how it fits with business and workforce development goals in Whatcom County. The meeting will be held at the Ferndale Library. Buckingham, from Birch Equipment, will be speaking at the event along with WBA Board member Laura McKinney, who is the human resources, government affairs and public relations manager at Alcoa Intalco Works.

“I know that employers in our community have had a difficult time engaging with students,” McKinney said. “At the same time, youth in our community often ask how they can get a job at prime employers in Whatcom County. That’s where YESWhatcom.com can help; we hope that the YES Whatcom website will be used to build a bridge between students and employers.”

Some key employers in Bellingham, Lynden, Ferndale and throughout Whatcom County have entry-level job openings listed on YESWhatcom.com’s job board:

  • Alcoa Intalco Works is hiring full-time production laborers.
  • Enfield Farms needs case handlers.
  • Custom Concrete is looking for concrete laborers.
  • Samson Rope is hiring machine operators.
  • Christian Health Care Center is offering free training for healthcare careers.
  • Birch Equipment is hiring a store representative.

“We hope to instill a sense of lifelong learning in our kids here in Whatcom County,” McKinney said. “Local youth can get experience and start their career path with local employers. Connecting employers with the workforce of the future provides ample opportunities for growth and development, not only for Whatcom businesses but also for our many talented and hard-working youth. If you’re a critical thinker, if you can follow directions, if you can show up to work and be drug-free, Whatcom County employers are ready to help you get started and teach you what you need to know.”

For more information, call YES Whatcom at 360-746-0418 or email program representatives at info@whatcombusinessalliance.com.

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