Cory Torrpa made the trek from Kalama, Washington, to Washington, D.C., for President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address last week.
He was a guest of his congresswoman, Democrat Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez. Torrpa, who has 18 years of experience teaching construction, manufacturing and engineering high school courses, said the trip gave him a taste of history and a sense for the inner workings of the federal government.
Gluesenkamp Perez invited Torrpa because he won the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for teaching excellence. As just one of five winners nationwide, Torrpa secured $100,000 for Kalama High School’s construction program.
“Supporting career and technical education programs is key to rebuilding the American workforce, but too many students are still told that a college degree is the only path to a successful future,” Gluesenkamp Perez said in a statement. “Mr. Torppa is opening so many doors for Kalama students to pursue good-paying, high-demand careers in the trades while making sure they’re having fun along the way.”
Here, Construction Dive spoke with Torrpa about the state of construction education and what he needs to more effectively do his job and introduce more students to the trades.
The following has been edited for brevity and clarity.
CONSTRUCTION DIVE: In your experience, how has career and technical education (CTE) changed over the course of your career? Do you anticipate it changing more in the future?
CORY TORRPA: It energizes me that the conversation around post-secondary opportunities is not limited to going to college but includes how to build a pathway to a career. Increased funding for facilities, equipment, teacher training, partnerships and leadership have proven to be effective investments.
I do believe that the more teachers, administrators, industry partners and career-connected counselors can work together to bring meaningful career exposures to students, the more we will be able to help strengthen the school to career pipeline with work-ready students.
How important is it to teach the basics of the trades to young people?
It is important to provide the country’s youth the opportunity to experience different pathways to their future career options. Part of that is to expose them to the basics of the various options they have. Teaching the basics of the trades is essential for these students to begin to understand the pathway to a career in the trades.
I have been fortunate here in Kalama to have a supportive community and school district that has helped fund an industry-standard CTE facility that continues to grow and better align with the trades. The beneficiaries of this commitment have been our students.
What do you as a teacher need to more effectively do your job?
I believe it is imperative to help teachers and industry representatives engage with each other at a local level. This is a huge key to my success. It is not only about funding, but a partnership to help understand each other’s needs and how they can support similar goals.
Additionally, it is critical that the partnership among these parties be mutually beneficial. Several years ago it was typical for schools to look to industry for support through tools, equipment and financial support. A more effective model is to bring everyone to the table, share needs and goals, and find a mutually beneficial path forward where each party is giving and receiving, resulting in success for all parties.
I really need a career-connected counselor at Kalama High School. This is someone who is dedicated to and has a deep understanding of many career opportunities for our students. A career-connected counselor is essential in connecting Kalama students with post-secondary education information and events within the region. A career-connected counselor could help inform both students and parents of the future career pathway options. This is a vital link between Kalama High School students and the post-secondary pathway they take.
How can contractors get involved in investing in the emerging workforce?
Reach out to your local high school CTE/skilled trades teacher, go visit them. Get to know what their needs are, share your needs and look for common ground. Both parties must see this as a long-term partnership, not just a one-time meeting. If it is a good fit, becoming an advocate for CTE programs is a game-changer for a program.
Those who are interested in participating in the process can join an advisory board, be a voice in the community and educate school boards and administrators on the value of CTE and the program you are partnering with. In Kalama, our vision is to be able to provide employable students for our local employers, for living wage careers.