SSEABIA Signing Day at Kayhi

Students and staff pose for a photo during Southern Southeast Alaska Building Industry Association's signing day at Kayhi on Tuesday, April 18.

Staff photo Christopher Mullen

Eighteen local students who plan to enter the trades were celebrated during a “Signing Day” event hosted by the Southern Southeast Alaska Building Industry Association on April 18 at the Ketchikan High School Library.

The students are heading toward apprenticeships and training programs in a variety of trades in Alaska and across the country after completing their high school careers.

The early afternoon Signing Day event followed a forum hosted by the SSEABIA with local contractors and students interested in potentially entering the trades. The Kayhi Library was full as the students were called up to a table in groups of three to sign large SSEABIA certificates of congratulations that bore their names and that of the program that the individual student planned to attend.

There were a lot of smiles and applause, and many photographs taken.

“This is astounding,” SSEABIA Executive Officer Michelle O’Brien said after the students, Kayhi career technical education teachers and association members had posed for a group photograph. “We didn’t know what to expect but all of a sudden the room is overflowing. We plan on definitely doing this every year. It's important.”

The students highlighted during the event (and the programs that they’ll be going into) were Izaak Landis (IBEW), Shawn Cadiente (IBEW), Gavin Buendia (IBEW); Elliot Yoder (IBEW), Andrew Hildebrandt (AVTEC-Diesel Mechanics), Romel Del Mundo (AVTEC-Welding), Alexsandria Vasquez (UTI-Auto Mechanics, Arizona), David Rasmussen (UTI-Auto Mechanics, Arizona), Maddox Chau (UTI-Auto Mechanics, Illinois), Haley Heck (UAS-Construction), Davien Lee (Divers Institute, Spokane), Jhun Baclaan (Heavy equipment training through Tyler Rental), Annelise Hiatt (Pilot-Aviation, Central Oregon Community College — Leading Edge Flight Academy), Logan Merrill (Bridgerland Technical College — Utah Culinary), Carly Cape-Powell (Northwest Culinary Institute), Keegan Griffin (Bayco Motor Mechanic), Seth Webb (AVTEC—Industrial Electricity), Owen Woodward (UA— Welding).

For SSEABIA President Scott Cragun of Ketchikan, the Signing Day event was part of a shift in focus for the association.

“What we've been doing year after year after year is giving scholarships to kids that were going into the trades,” Cragun said.

Two to four scholarships have been available each year. To broaden the benefits, the association is working to bring the national Home Builders Institute’s Pre-Apprenticeship Certificate Training curriculum to Ketchikan at the high school level, and has applied for and received $13,000 in grant funding for licensing, instructor training and student assessment fees.

According to HBI information, “PACT guarantees every student masters the knowledge needed to be employed in an entry-level job in the building industry” by integrating “contextual, work-based learning with vocational and academic skills training in the classroom.”

If the curriculum is integrated here, the association is interested in supporting it financially, along with providing money for materials and tools, he said.

“The idea was that we would help maybe 30 or 40 kids each year instead of three or four,” Cragun said.

With that effort underway, the association came up with the Signing Day idea to show students that “we notice,” he said.

“People in the trades notice people who are going into the trades,” Cragun said. “We want to support them all the way through.”

Alexsandria Vasquez was appreciative of the event. The part-time Revilla High School student who also takes a class at Kayhi has a goal of working in diesel heavy mechanics.

“It’s certainly important to get recognized for something that we're doing,” Vasquez told the Daily News after the event. “That's how I feel because we just, they just recognize people who are going to college with scholarships for sports. But what about the kids who don't go to college, or don't go to college just for the sports? Like they go to vocational school, and they don't get recognized for that.”

Her enthusiasm for learning about mechanics was evident throughout the conversation, including a description of taking apart an ‘86 Corvette in an auto shop class taught by Kayhi’s Clint McClennan.

She’d said that she’d failed math because of the way it was being taught.

“That level of teaching won’t get to me, but the way McClennan taught my auto shop class, it was amazing,” she said as she launched into a story about taking the dash and dash pad out of the car.

O’Brien was listening in, and remarked on the spirited tale.

“You can totally see the smile on your face as you're telling the story,” O’Brien said.

Also present was David Lindquist, the Kayhi welding, woods and construction teacher.

He touched on a variety of related topics, including the benefits of taking career technical education courses during high school. The 18 students highlighted during the Signing Day were heading toward a number of different fields.

“Some of them I've had in construction, and they're going into an electrical (field) or they're going into a welding (program),” Lindquist said. “Most of these kids that you saw up here have been in multiple areas. And again, the goal is, (when you're) in high school (it's) about exploring. It's about figuring out what you want.

“It's not about going to college, then explore, because then it's expensive,” he said, citing the potential high costs for attending college. “It's about exploring now, figuring out what you want. So I'll tell a kid who’s in my construction class, ‘Hey, if this isn't good for you, you need to try welding, you need to try auto mechanics, you need to try something else. Find out what you're good at, if you don't know.’”

He gave a statistic indicating that, during the past five years in Ketchikan, students who take a full year of career technical education their senior year have had a higher graduation rate than those who have not.

“And I firmly believe it's because these are the kids that know that, ‘Hey, I'm probably gonna have to go get a job and I need this, I have to have this,’” Lindquist said. “So they find their happy place. You know, some of the kids come in, they say (this is) the best class I have during the day because I can come in here and do something I want to do.

“And for a lot of the kids, they see relevance,” he continued. “You know, they may hate geometry, but I said, ‘You're gonna need geometry right here when we're calculating trusses and things like that. You're gonna need that geometry.’ So actually we help everybody. They just don't know it. We're probably the best kept secrets in the last 50 years.”

A part of the conversations after the April 19 event centered on the demand for skilled tradespeople here in Ketchikan and across the country, with mentions of long wait times for needed work and strong pay for workers.

One result from such demand is a growth in the amount of financial support becoming available to help support the trades.

O’Brien said on Tuesday that the SSEABIA has become the “number-one growing home builders association in all of Alaska right now.

“We have become eligible for so many grants,” she said. “It's astounding to me, the number of grants that are out there.”

“It’s fantastic,” she continued, “and we certainly appreciate the support because the organization needs to, especially with the housing crisis that our town is going through, ... become really relevant and important, and can be those things within our community. And we want to do it sooner than later.”

At its most basic, the Signing Day was a recognition that students who are interested in the trades are pursuing valuable careers and deserve the community’s support and acknowledgement.

‘I think this is really important to recognize our students because a lot of our students don't take a traditional path — and so for them to be encouraged and recognized this way means a lot to them,” McClennan said after the event. “It helps take that stigma off of not going to college or a more traditional way into things. So this is a really important thing for the community to come together to recognize them. I'm thankful we did it.”