By Lyndsie Kiebert
Niki Vandenhouten entered her senior year at Clark Fork High School without a clue what her future would hold.
That is, until she found out about PTECH (Pathways To Early Career High School). The statewide program, funded by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation, helps streamline Idaho high school students to high-paying jobs in Idaho industries. These industries include aerospace, healthcare, web development, diesel technology and more.
“I didn’t have a plan at first. I had no idea what I as going to do, what I even wanted to go to college for or if I was going to go,” she said. “Then I learned that (PTECH does) take care of students.”
Vandenhouten said the program helped her in a variety of ways. PTECH supported her financially through college, but also by providing “coaching” and soft skills training to ready her for the workforce. She said she gained time management skills and confidence thanks to her time with PTECH.
But perhaps the most useful thing Vandenhouten has gained in her time with PTECH is the education she needed to become an airplane mechanic. After three years (four, if you count her time with PTECH in high school), she will graduate this spring from the North Idaho College Aerospace program.
She said she’s not worried about finding a job because she believes PTECH and NIC have prepared her.
“I honestly wouldn’t be the person that I am without them,” she said.
Despite her successes, Vandenhouten is about to become a rarity. PTECH is losing it’s funding due to a lack of commitment from anyone besides the Albertson Foundation, according to PTECH Executive Director Alan Millar.
“The foundation decided not to go down this road alone,” Millar said. “I am so grateful, but now I’m trying to find other entities who will continue the effort.”
PTECH will honor scholarships they’ve already promised to students for the next two years, Millar said.
He said they’ve tried to get Idaho industries to invest, but the turnaround time a student needs before they can work is too long. Instead, PTECH is pushing apprenticeships in order to get high school kids into the workplace early.
Millar said that in its nearly four years of existence, PTECH has changed their approach several times to find out what would truly help bridge the gap between Idaho students and Idaho jobs.
“We’ve realized that what industry is telling us that no matter where students come from — a four-year college or whatever — students are not job ready,” he said.
To combat that, Millar said PTECH has spent the last six months focusing on job readiness programs, so that students like Vandenhouten not only know how to work in their field, but how to fit in with a company.
These approaches are not happening at the state level, and in turn, the state is not interested in funding or adopting PTECH as a state-administered program — at least not right now.
Instead, the state invests in upper quartile students who are likely to pursue four-year liberal arts degrees, Millar said. Oftentimes, those students live in population centers, which is why PTECH is tailored to more rural schools.
“Rural students are drifting off to an uncertain future that isn’t as well paid as other states,” Millar said.
While Millar said he plans to retire following the program’s end, he hopes to see PTECH’s findings contribute to the wider education conversation in the state.
“My goal would be that we could find funding and pass the torch, because we realize what we can do to make a difference,” he said.
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