Most Albany teachers are used to sending their students on field trips, hoping to open their eyes to a new experience that might shape their futures.
They don't often get to take such a trip themselves. But that's exactly what mid-valley industries had in mind by inviting teachers from South Albany, West Albany and Albany Options high schools to tour their facilities Monday.
About 170 teachers and district administrators joined the tour, which was part of the official kickoff for Pipeline, the newly-named campaign of the Albany-area workforce development program.
The program is a partnership between various industries, Linn County, the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce, Linn-Benton Community College, the City of Albany, Samaritan Health Services and Greater Albany Public Schools. It's meant to provide students with a greater understanding of local industry and encourage them to consider being a part of it.
Students already are taking industry tours through the partnership. Monday's teacher tours were meant as another way to get the message out, and to encourage teachers to check out career days, guest speakers, internships, trades academy classes and job shadow possibilities, said Josefine Fleetwood, the Chamber's director of workforce development.
Industry leaders say their fields are growing and many of their current employees are nearing retirement. They estimate potentially 1,000 new positions opening in the next five years — and most don't require a four-year degree.
Take L&M Industrial Fabrication of Tangent, for instance, visited Monday by about a dozen teachers and staff from the alternative Albany Options School.
Gary Dobrkovsky, senior estimator and project manager, said his company is willing to meet a good, dedicated worker wherever he might be — even one without a high school diploma.
L&M currently employs 71 people, 40 to 45 of them in production and another eight to 10 in project management, said Cheryl Kirby-Brant, human resources manager. None of those positions require a degree, and at least half of the project managers came to the company right out of high school.
The company does its own testing and certification, so employees don't even need to come in with basic welding skills — although they may move up more quickly if they do, Kirby-Brant said.
Math and communication skills are also useful, she said. But what the company really needs is workers who can be on the job at 6 a.m. each day — that alone eliminates many would-be employees, she noted — and work safely and well with others.
If they do that, they'll likely have a secure job: L&M has had just one layoff in the past decade, and that was because of a minor restructuring, Kirby-Brant said.
They'll also make a decent living, she said. The average welder brings in $40,000 to $55,000 per year, and a fabricator with five to 10 years' experience claims more like $55,00 to $80,000.
The situation is similar at the other industries teachers visited Monday, including Selmet, Viper NW and Oregon Freeze Dry, said Fleetwood, the workforce development director.
Nobody is saying a student planning for college shouldn't go, she said. It's about educating parents, students, and the teachers themselves about what options are available for those who want a different path.
"There are great jobs out here, and we need to be talking to kids about their futures. And it needs to start today," she said.
Anna Harryman, who teaches Language Arts and horticulture among other subjects at AOS, said all teachers at the alternative high school do some form of career and technical education with their students. It helps, she said, to know about available opportunities for them.
Mark Wolfe, who teaches social studies at AOS, said his students often are frustrated by the push for standardized academic tests. Some may shine more brightly when working with their hands.
It helps an educator, he said, "to be able to dangle the carrot of, 'Hey, demonstrate you can get to school on time; you can get to work on time. And jobs like this, they exist.'"
L&M welder Zac McKinney, a 2009 Lebanon High School graduate, said he didn't know anything about local industries when he left high school. He said he wishes his teachers had been invited to take industry tours and encourage those employment paths.
"If I would have started this right when I got out of high school, five years ago, I'd be up there, you know?" he said.