Editor’s note: This is the fourth and final piece of a four-part series that has been published daily through today.

James Mansanti first learned about welding in a friend’s garage, where a parent let him lay down a bead.

It didn’t seem to be a career path at first, but rather a skill that might come in useful sometime later in life. So when Mansanti started classes at Umpqua Community College, his focus wasn’t on welding.

“I just thought that I should at least know how to do it,” Mansanti said about signing up for his first welding class at UCC in spring 2015.

But, as it turns out, welding was a career path for Mansanti.

He is now the swing-shift lead at North River Boats in Green and welding is a big part of his job duties, as is supervising.

“If people need help they can ask me,” Mansanti said, adding that the skills he learned in college have helped him get this far in his career.

He also benefited from the contacts made in college, because he heard about an opening at North River Boats from a classmate.

Although high school graduates are able to get jobs easier upon completion of CTE courses and obtaining certificates, there are many college opportunities as well.

“Our purpose is to offer pathways and programs that prepare students for success in post-secondary education, a career and/or entering the services, whichever their choice is,” Roseburg High School Assistant Principal Brett Steinacher said.

WORKING CLOSELY

Each high school CTE teacher works closely with a community college nearby that offers the programs being taught. For many in Douglas County, that means Umpqua Community College.

UCC offers applied associates of science degrees — which allow students to enter the workforce with a two-year associate of science degrees — which can transfer to four-year college.

“Sometimes you’ll hear the comment, ‘Well, college isn’t for everybody, so there’s CTE education,’” UCC Dean of Career and Technical Education Jason Aase said. “No, CTE is college level, and it’s important that we elevate that.”

Students can also complete shorter term certificate programs, which are awarded for occupational content only and are state approved, or participate in a career-pathways program.

At Umpqua Community College, CTE provides training in a variety of occupations, such as applied science and technology (automotive technology, computer information systems, engineering technology, and welding), apprenticeships (electricians, industrial mechanics, millwright, machinist, pipe fitter), business administration, community and workforce training (truck driving), health science (dental, nursing), humanities (public relations), occupational skulls training, public safety, social and behavioral sciences (education, human services, paralegal studies) and the Southern Oregon Wine Institute.

UCC looks at its programs several times a year with the help of advisory boards. This board is made up of employers, employees, high school instructors and community members who look at what is currently offered at the college and what technology is available. Members of the board then make suggestions on classes that should be offered or are no longer relevant in the industry.

“(Our courses) have to align with business and industry needs so our graduates can find jobs,” UCC Director of Applied Science and Technology Clay Baumgartner said. “We focus on Douglas County, but the skills can work anywhere in the country.”

Orenco Senior Vice President Jeff Ball said his interactions with UCC advisory boards were informal. He added that drafting and engineering skills are important, but what’s critical is finding employees who can communicate effectively.

“Communication is very important to us,” Ball said. “We need welders, electricians, carpenters, but we often can train in-house. It’s just as important to know how to communicate.”

HARD-TO-FILL POSITIONS

The Sutherlin-based wastewater collection and treatment firm has had a hard time filling a technical sales representative, someone who can explain the technical parts but also sell and market it to outside sources.

Ball also said an IT-position and graphic-designer position remained open for an extended amount of time. “I was shocked to see how hard it was to find someone to fill those positions,” he said.

Jim Baird of Roseburg Urban Sanitary Authority (RUSA) is on the advisory boards and has also hired quite a few graduates over the years, as well as providing internship opportunities for the students.

John Bastianelli grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, spent seven years in the Army and now works for RUSA. He stayed on after his internship.

He decided to make Roseburg home after he got out of the Army and attended UCC, where he used his G.I. Bill to get an education. While at UCC, he learned about an internship at RUSA and decided to take the opportunity to get hands on experience.

“I use all the programs I learned. The textbook education vs. practical application are always going to be a learning curve on the job,” Bastianelli, now a UCC graduate, said. “I had a summer internship here at RUSA and no one ever asked me to leave, so it ended up being a year-long internship and they hired me upon graduation.

“I value my internship above any classroom education.”

Students in the various courses also have internships or apprenticeships in their respective field of study.

“It’s a good stepping stone,” Mansanti said of UCC. “You learn all the basics and how all the tools work, but you get to know so much more when you’re actually in the industry.”

ADDING COURSES

UCC’s forestry program next year is looking to add a course on renewable materials to keep up with trends in the industry.

Some instructors have noticed that students who were exposed to the topics in high school have an increased knowledge and interest coming into the program.

“Adding more CTE programs at high schools has made a noticeable and significant improvement to the level of knowledge for incoming students,” Baumgartner said. “Not only are more high schools adding CTE programs, the programs are incorporating advanced technologies in CAD, manufacturing, wood products, computers, etc.”

Sandra Angeli-Gade, UCC human services program director and assistant professor, said she hopes high schools start introducing students to psychology and sociology and introduce students to volunteer opportunities.

UCC Department Chair of Social and Behavioral Science Crystal Sullivan said she hopes high school teachers will “provide students with the realistic expectation that school is supposed to be challenging and push them harder to learn and grow.”

Another thing community colleges took part in this year is a national CTE signing day, which saw 20 students sign letters of intent to enroll in one of UCC’s career-focus programs.

Baumgartner speculated that adding CTE programs and exposing students to technology and career-based learning could increase the retention rate.

“Nationwide, the year-to-year retention rate for incoming community college students is approximately 40%,” he said. “As high schools continue to add more CTE programs, I expect the retention rate at UCC to improve significantly, and ultimately be in the range of 60 to 80%.”

Sanne Godfrey can be reached at sgodfrey@nrtoday.com or 541-957-4203. Follow her on Twitter @sannegodfrey.

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Education Reporter

Sanne Godfrey is the education reporter for The News-Review.

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