By Abby Spegman

The Bulletin

REDMOND — Redmond High School senior Hector Guzman started in the school’s manufacturing program last year, learning to operate both industrial-grade equipment and the computer software used to design products. Ryan Beard, Redmond High’s manufacturing coordinator, turned him on to an opening for a welder at Mill Power in Prineville. Guzman sent in an application and resume and was soon called in for an interview.

He graduates Friday and goes to work June 8, starting at $12 an hour.

Career and technical education ­— think courses in manufacturing, automotive, culinary and health care ­— are expensive offerings for high schools. Books for an English class cost a few hundred dollars, but supplies for a welding course can cost thousands. There’s also special requirements for teacher licensing and student-teacher ratios that are lower than most districts prefer. In years of budget cuts, career and technical education programs were often the first to go.

But supporters say they can produce much-needed skilled workers, and now educators and business leaders are making the case that these courses are worth the investment.

Today’s programs aren’t the woodworking and home ec classes of the past, said Ray Hasart, a regional coordinator with High Desert Education Service District. “It’s not like ‘Here, make a birdhouse’ … That’s not what industry needs now. They need problem solvers,” he said, adding that many students receive college credit for high school career and technical courses and those taking such courses are more likely to graduate than Oregon students overall. “Our kids do better because it means something to them,” Hasart said.

In 2011, the state began offering grants for career and technical programs and last year awarded $10.9 million to districts across the state. The grants are designed to be seed money to help engage local businesses as partners and leverage more funding, according to Charlie Burr, a spokesman for Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, which runs the grant program with the state’s Department of Education. The Legislature is now considering how much money to put toward the grant program for the coming years and Burr notes there is “tremendous demand” for this funding. Meanwhile, a series of bills introduced in Salem this year to expand access and funding to career and technical education are still in committee.

Earlier this week, Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian met with students at Redmond High and Bend High to make the case for more grant funding. Both schools received hefty grants last year ­— $268,000 to Bend for its renewable energy and electric vehicles program and $475,000 to Redmond for manufacturing. That program has 28 students now and Beard, the coordinator, expects to have double that next year; the school has also enlisted 29 business partners in Central Oregon to help students with internships and jobs.

While some students will go to work after high school, Avakian said, others can benefit from the soft skills that come with these hands-on programs: problem solving, creative thinking, teamwork. Yes, he said, to grow the economy and add jobs, the state needs a trained workforce. “Even more important than that, this provides a well-rounded education that will prepare them in life for whatever they do.” As far as the case for funding these programs? “The case has been made,” Avakian said.

Two days after Avakian visited their school, nine Redmond High students, all boys, sat around a conference table at Mill Power, a 20-employee operation that designs, produces and sells industrial sorting equipment ­— imagine a giant, vibrating conveyor belt that can separate and sort materials. Matt Ballantyne, Mill’s engineering manager, rattled off the names of design software the company uses and the students nodded with familiarity.

Next they toured the offices before heading into the shop (most of the students came with their own plastic safety glasses). There Mike Grigsby, a sawyer, showed them the equipment he uses to cut giant steel pieces to an engineer’s specifications. “The more accurate I am here, the easier it is for the guys down there,” Grigsby said, pointing to fitters and welders at the other end of the shop. “So I got to be accurate.”

Mill Power Vice President Alison Muilenburg said in the years career and technical programs were cut the company saw a lack of skilled workers ready to hire. She called the grant to Redmond’s manufacturing program “a gift.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7837,