WENATCHEE - Classrooms linked by fiber optic technology are giving the youth of the Wenatchee area a leg up on the high tech world awaiting them when they leave school.
The more than 200 students attending the Wenatchee skills center are also earning state and national certification and college credits in career fields which make them ready for immediate employment upon graduation from high school.
"It's a whole new world facing today's youth," said John Linder, the director of the North Central Technical Skills Center of Wenatchee. "It's a world which is requiring them to know something about the world of work before leaving school. In come cases, our technical skills center graduates are also earning college credits," said Linder.
Tuesday, Linder led a delegation of Sunnyside leaders on a tour of the eight-year-old skills center, which serves the vocational and technological education of students covering 10 school districts in three Central Washington counties.
The Sunnyside delegation, which included Sunnyside Port Commissioner Arnold Martin, Port Manager Amber Hansen, Sunnyside School District Executive Director of Schools and Community Resources Ruben Carrera and Sunnyside Economic Development Association Executive Director Rado Harrington, were in Wenatchee to investigate the partnerships which have allowed the North Central Technical Skills Center to be so successful.
The delegates were on a mission to gather information towards proposing a similar skills center in Sunnyside. The Sunnyside partners are hoping to establish a Lower Valley Skills Center by 2008 in the Port of Sunnyside industrial park on East Edison Avenue.
Also a part of the delegation's Wenatchee trip was a tour of the brand new Confluence Technology Center, which opened in May 2004 and is located just a block from the technical skills center.
The three-story technology center was also a partnership of community investors, said Joyce Stewart, the deputy director of the Chelan Port District, who helped to head up the construction of the center. She said the center partners include the local public utility district, the port districts of several counties, as well as the region's community college and medical community.
The center is a marvel of technology and real time media communication and is already impacting the local economy, said Stewart.
It has been the harbinger for a burst of economic growth in the surrounding areas, and is ready to seek out a location for incubator businesses that need the type of technology we have available, she said.
The two centers complement each other, said Linder.
For example, the Confluence Technology Center offers opportunities in higher education with a branch campus of the Wenatchee Valley Community College located in a wing of the building.
"More importantly there are jobs there for our students," Linder said.
"And training for adults seeking upgrades in their technical skills," he added.
The North Central Skills Center receives much of its funding from the state vocational education budget and from contracts with the school districts in the tri-county area.
The high tech skills center offers the usual courses, cosmetology and automotive, but in addition, the center has expanded to meet the needs of area employers who need skilled workers in the areas of computer repair, installation and management of computer network systems.
The Center also offers classes in DigiPen computer sciences, which teaches video game designs and programs. The center also has a department dedicated to digital video productions, offering students certification in editing and production as well as real life training working on public service announcements on a local access station, Linder said. But the center also offers classes in fire science and law enforcement.
The center is continuing to expand, Linder said. This summer the center will begin offering collision repair technology and culinary arts training, which will include hospitality industry skills and certification, Linder said. He said in the future he hopes to offer programs in medical lab training, dentistry and natural resources.
"We're offering preparatory career and technical training for higher level employment," Linder said.
Linder said the center's students are routinely sought to work for major companies with starting salaries of $90,000 a year.
The partnership is one which is making our corner of the world ready for the next leap in economic development, said Stewart.
"With the technology now available in Wenatchee, we don't have to go to the world, " she said
"It comes to us," she said.