PTECH triples in size, serves students statewide

High school senior Hayla Evans sees a clear path for her future. She attributes her career plans to her teachers at Forrest M. Bird Charter School in Sandpoint and to PTECH.

“Not only has PTECH given me the opportunity to start up my college education, but they are helping me develop the right soft skills I’m going to need for what I’m going into,” Evans said.

The Pathways to Technology, Early College High School program — or PTECH — launched in the summer of 2014. The program is designed to bridge the gap between education and industry and help Idaho youth develop soft skills such as communication, and take sequential courses that will land them a job in a high-growth industry.

Several industries are expected to grow and need workers, such as aerospace/advanced manufacturing, technology and health care. Industry partners — such as Kootenai Health, Ednetics and Empire Airlines — support PTECH’s mission by informing them of what job skills they will most likely need in the coming years. The Idaho Department of Labor expects 1,500 jobs to be available by 2018 in aerospace/advanced manufacturing, technology and health care and fears there may not be enough applicants to fill all those jobs. The PTECH program is designed to fill some of those spots with students enrolled in Idaho public schools.

During PTECH’s inaugural year, 50 students participated across six schools from Sandpoint to Kuna. PTECH now serves 180 students in 16 schools. The non-profit program expects to grow to more than 300 students by next fall.

While still in its infancy, PTECH has already been invited to a much larger table. Last December, Executive Director Alan Millar joined 300 other programs across the country in the College Opportunity Summit at the White House.

“The most interesting thing is that while we have a relatively small number of students, we’ve wound up being involved in a lot of larger conversations about the direction of the state, how we might actually link our education system to the actual economy better than we are doing now,” Millar said.

For teenagers like Evans, the coaching and mentorship have set her on a track to a career, not just college preparation. In addition to teaching her soft skills like teamwork, organization and communication, PTECH is paying for Evans to take classes that will prepare her for the job industry.

“They know my plans of the future, so they’re not just looking at a two-year-degree — they are putting me through classes they know will set me up for success in the future,” Evans said.

Participants are selected by a school’s PTECH facilitator, who is also a teacher at the high school. Once invited into PTECH, the junior or senior is enrolled in a community college. PTECH graduates are placed according to what career track they pick. Students are given a laptop, a coach, an internship and connections with potential employers.

One concern of PTECH’s growth is overwhelming community colleges with additional students.

“We do have a large number of students this year who are seniors that next year will be going to the community college. Right now our students are mainly taking online courses,” said PTECH’s Karl Dye.

Evans is on a technology track and her career goal is to become a systems engineer for Cisco. She expects to pursue a four-year degree in technology management.

“If other opportunities arise along the way, I will definitely take them,” she said.

Disclosure: Idaho Education News and Idaho PTECH are both funded by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation.