The chief executive of All Hands Raised, the independent fundraising organization for Portland-area public schools, on an effort launched in January to boost skilled-trade training for local students:
What does the current state of Portland schools bode for the city’s economy?
The stats on high school graduation and postsecondary education are grim. When we looked at 100 Portland ninth graders, we determined that only 27, on average, complete any kind of postsecondary education. Our fastest-growing demographic group, Latinos, has an extremely high dropout rate. And one economic implication of that is that we fill a lot of Portland’s family-wage jobs by importing talent, not by growing our own.
You mean this is a problem that luring “young creatives” to town won’t fix?
Execs from our local industries that need skilled labor—the Precision Castparts, the Boeings—are always telling us that it’s hard to hire. And when you see the earning potential of a highly trained electrician or someone in the advanced construction trades, you can see the missed opportunity. These are high-paying jobs that, in many cases, don’t require a college degree. The jobs are there, and they’re not being filled.
How do we fix that?
We traditionally applaud the bachelor of arts graduate, even if the end game is waiting tables. But there’s not the same acknowledgment for the kid who goes from a high school vocational program into an apprenticeship and from there into a great, family-wage career. We need to value both.