MOUNT VERNON — At the Northwest Washington Electrical Industry training hall last week, high school students bent pipes, wired light bulbs and hammered steel.

About 340 students participated in WorkSource Skagit’s annual tour designed to expose them to postsecondary careers that don’t involve college.

“When it started, it was to give students some sort of insight about apprenticeships,” said Susan Gustafson, tour coordinator with WorkSource Skagit.

The tour was started about 12 years ago under the name “Hands on Training Tour,” but it is now called the Washington Apprenticeship Vocational Education (WAVE) tour.

Over the three-day program, students from Skagit, Snohomish and Whatcom counties visited the Mount Vernon training hall for electricians as well as the Plumbers and Steamfitters Union hall in Burlington to learn about the electrical, plumbing, carpentry and construction fields.

“A lot of it is more hands-on experience,” Gustafson said. “It’s to plant a seed for students to know that, although there are four-year college degrees, there’s also two-year trades.”

At stations sponsored by each trade, students learned about starting salary, benefits and opportunities, as well as participated in a hands-on event.

One station simulated a construction site work by having students shovel beanbags, lift weighted bags and hammer nails into a board.

“There’s always going to be a need for it,” said third-year electrical apprentice Tyler Hodgin, 31.

For Hodgin, the apprenticeship provided him with a career pathway that didn’t require him to take out student loans, but instead allowed him to earn money.

“You go to school for three to four years, you make money, you learn a trade and you have no debt,” Hodgin said.

For electrician instructor Doug Simpson, entering the construction field after high school not only gave him a living-wage job, but it provided opportunities to travel and work in a variety of locations, he said.

“I have worked in nuclear reactors, and I have worked in 7-Elevens and everything in between,” Simpson said. “(The trades have) been a really good secret for a long time.”

The tour ties in with a statewide push to increase awareness about apprenticeships.

After 18 months of planning, Gov. Jay Inslee launched in October the Career Connect Washington plan, which has the goal of connecting 100,000 youths in Washington with “career-connected learning opportunities that prepare them for high-demand, high wage jobs,” according to its website.

In his 2019-2021 budget, Inslee proposed a $110 million investment in new career-connected opportunities.

“The WAVE tour seems to have been way ahead,” Gustafson said. “What’s happening right here does lend itself to what the state is trying to push.”

Mount Vernon High School student Elliot Lehman said she is considering a career in education but might change her mind after learning about some of the trades.

“It comes with awesome benefits,” the 16-year-old said. “I’ve been looking at college and didn’t know what I was going to do.”

Having students participate in events such as the WAVE tour is a good way to expose them to more career options.

“Students need to understand that they have so many postsecondary options,” said Mount Vernon High School college and career specialist Paige Bird. “They’re learning that the more training, the more learning they have after high school, the more potential they’ll have for a great life.”

— Reporter Kera Wanielista: 360-416-2141,, Twitter: @Kera_SVH,

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