Craig Dwight told attendees at a presentation about YV-Tech this past Wednesday evening that the state of Washington is in desperate need of skilled workers.
"We don't have an unemployment problem, we have a skills problem," he said.
An aging workforce has contributed to the issue, and the shortage is a big problem for businesses in the state.
"There are 38 community colleges and technical schools in Washington," Dwight said. "If all the schools could produce 100 skilled workers a year they wouldn't even meet half the demand from the Boeing Company alone."
The good news for Sunnyside is that a new skills center is being built on Port of Sunnyside property just south of the Sunnyside School District's bus barn.
Students at the high school will be able to attend the skills center for free, earning up to 60 credits, learning essential entry level job skills and possibly also earning licenses and certifications they can use immediately to get good paying jobs.
If students want to apply those credits to further education, they will be able to earn an AA degree from one of the 18 schools affiliated with YV-Tech.
"There will be 77 million workers retiring in the next 19 years," said Dwight. "We need workers to replace them. We need people to build the planes. For every engineer or scientist, we need 20 to 50 skilled laborers to put those ideas into action."
The plan is to break ground on the new YV-Tech facility in March and have it open by January 2014. The grounds of the building have room to expand and Sunnyside Schools Superintendent Dr. Rick Cole said there is even more room near the district's transportation facility to the north for further expansion if needed.
"The construction of the building and the framework for the programs are there," said Cole. "Now we need to work on what programs we will offer."
The initial building will have three teaching areas: one for welding, one for nursing and an information technology center. The focus can change as needed, however.
"The building is designed with no interior load-bearing walls," said Dwight. "We can change the internal configuration as we need for new programs."
Cole brought out the diagram of the city's core conveners, noting that the skills center is one of the efforts the coalition is working on. He said the skills center would soon need advisory groups to help plan what programs are needed and would best serve the youth of the Lower Valley.
Attendees asked several questions about the facility, including the fate of the portables currently being used for programs on the site. Dwight said the programs will move into the Port building across the street and the portables removed. The current programs will not be interrupted.
Cole also pointed out that efforts to get a skill center in the area have been going on since 1992. The current effort was started in 2005 and will bring equipment and training into the area that the district alone could not afford to provide.
Dwight also said that while the youth of the valley come first, the skills center may be able to serve adults as well.
"We need these workers," he said.