By Andrew Kirk
This spring a few hard-working high school students in Pasco will get to work outside the classroom at an actual job site where they’ll earn $16 an hour or more, while earning class credit.
The opportunity is being offered by the Association of General Contractors through its “Lemon Heads” apprenticeship program.
Lemon heads refer to the yellow hard hats worn by some workers in the construction trades.
Pasco School District is the first district in the Tri-Cities to offer the program. It is available to students at Pasco High School, Chiawana High School and New Horizons High School.
Mike Ankney directs the AGC’s apprenticeship and internship programs in the Inland Northwest region and oversees the Lemon Heads program from Spokane, where it’s been successful at Davenport High School and the Newtech Skills Center.
The first year, four of the five participants went into the construction trades. Last year, 19 students were put to work, he said.
“It’s considered work-based learning, and it’s a chance for participants to get hands-on learning while making a doggone good wage,” Ankney said.
To qualify, high school juniors must be enrolled in a career and technical education program, maintain a minimum 2.8 grade-point average and be available to work 20 to 28 hours per week.
During the summer, the interns enter the apprenticeship working 40 hours per week. To continue in the program, they have to return to school for their senior year and maintain their grades while working the 20 to 28 hours.
Upon graduation they’re ready for full-time employment, Ankney said.
This spring, John Weatherby, who teaches the construction skills class for Pasco High’s CTE program, will recommend a handful of students showing good work ethic, attentiveness, a keen interest in the industry, he said. They also must be able to pass a drug test.
As more contractors participate, more interns can be accepted in future years.
“It’s all about seeing if it’s a career option they want to pursue… and get exposure to our industry. And it’s a chance for contractors to train new talent. There’s a tremendous labor shortage in the construction industry, and a tremendous shortage of young people coming into the industry,” he said. “And in Tri-Cities there’s a tremendous workload.”
Weatherby’s class helps the students get safety certifications and learn what they need to know before entering the job site. Upon graduation, the students are work-ready and competitive candidates for trade schools to become specialized laborers if desired, he said.
“Everyone seems to be hiring,” Weatherby said. “Now they’re reaching into the high schools trying to get them interested at an earlier age… It’s a good opportunity. It’s another direction for our students to get some skills for the workplace.”
Ankney believes the Lemon Heads program has a bright future in Tri-Cities. He’s been meeting with Tri-Tech and Kennewick School District’s CTE administrators to expand the program. Partnering contractors require work permits and other criteria, but his office knows how to meet those requirements, he said. Now it’s a matter of building relationships. The AGC’s local office is working on that now, he said.
Chervenell Construction in Kennewick has already expressed support.
“With the success the program is having in Spokane, we are eager to help start the program here in the Tri-Cities. It is our hope that it will lead the workforce of tomorrow into construction,” said Brandon Mayfield, president of the company.
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