Silicon Forest Electronics shared their involvement in developing the next generation of workers

By Jennifer Ferrero, APR

Jay Schmidt’s journey of fostering future employees for Silicon Forest Electronics started about 10 years ago. “We share a property line with Fort Vancouver High School,” said Schmidt. Back when he started working at Silicon Forest Electronics, their President, Frank Nichols, approached the high school to ask if they wanted to engage the students in manufacturing internships.

The counselors and teachers were concerned about students working in a “manufacturing company”. Since that time, the company and the high school are now highly engaged in an industry-education partnership.

Times are changing and initiatives like Governor Inslee’s Career Connect WA are adding some credence to manufacturing careers, but there are many other factors at play.

As Executive VP and General Manager, Schmidt is now heavily involved in educating people within the Southwest Washington community about opportunities in businesses like Silicon Forest Electronics.

They came up with an innovative idea called “Flipped Internships,” and “Teacher Externships,” which is a hybrid of traditional job shadowing and internships.

In the Flipped Internship, Silicon Forest Electronics employees go to the high school to provide internship-style training on the student’s turf. This year they did Lean Manufacturing training and activities in the welding and fabrication program. The project known as “6S” helps teach skills on how to organize your manufacturing workspace.

In the Teacher Externship, they bring a teacher into their workplace to work on-the-job for 40-hours in the summer. This is a paid opportunity for teachers to learn the current techniques being used in business and to brush up on skills to teach students during the school year.

Last year they had a teacher from iTech Prep who came in to participate in the Silicon Forest Electronics soldering training, including the techniques required for space applications, like on satellites. The teacher was able to go back to the high school, and now has this new level of skill to train the students on “industry-current” techniques.

While Schmidt is familiar with Career Connect WA, he said, “there’s more than one way to approach workforce development.”

He is involved with the SW Washington High Tech Council and SW Washington STEM Network as well as Career and Technical Education programs. He also is partnered with a variety of manufacturing companies to share resources and knowledge.

Silicon Forest currently has 90 employees and expects growth of 50-75% in the next five years. He knows that they need to continue to foster a future workforce and routinely innovates in this area. He said, “We plan to take in high school graduates after graduation, have them work for us in the summer, then go to Clark College in the fall to study in the Mechatronics program while still working part-time at our company. This provides the student with great work-study pathways.”

This is a similar model to Governor Inslee’s program in that students are engaging in hands-on training and higher education concurrently. The idea is that the next generation of workers will become trained following high school and may have less lag time in finding quality employment.

Companies like Silicon Forest Electronics can benefit through the ability to add capacity to their workforce.