Program offers diverse community opportunities in trades and apprenticeships 

Pictured: Graduates from the first PACT cohort, funded by King County in support of the Priority Hire Program.

The King County Priority Hire Program is helping people in economically distressed communities across King County receive the training and skills they need to access rewarding employment and training opportunities in the construction industry. This work is building opportunities and creating a more diverse and trained workforce that will help this region prosper and grow.

“There are opportunities for people in the trades and this program is a great strategy to implement that will help diversify the workforce,” said Samantha Kealoha, Labor Equity Program Manager. “It’s important to help people get into this industry and earn family wage jobs.”

As an important part of the King County Equity and Social Justice Strategic Plan, the program supports greater diversity in the trades, increases the opportunities for community members to access training and improves the retention of a skilled, diverse workforce. Centralized in the Finance and Business Operations Division, it requires contractors to train and hire construction works living in local zip codes with high levels of poverty and unemployment. The program was officially established by the King County Council in March 2018, with support from Executive Dow Constantine and multiple council members.

“We are connecting people in the most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods to family-wage construction jobs that will build the future of our region,” said Executive Constantine. “King County infrastructure projects will now provide opportunities for more people who live in underserved communities to grab that first rung of the economic ladder.”

Pictured: Participants in the YCEP Program at Tahoma High School this summer.

To further this work, the program also collaborates with several organizations, including Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Employment for Women (ANEW). Together they organized the first ever Tahoma High School Youth Career Exploration Program (YCEP). This program offered 20 juniors and seniors the opportunity to learn skills and visit different job sites, including the Georgetown Wet Weather Treatment Station, within the Wastewater Treatment Division of King County’s Department of Natural Resources and Parks. The five-year construction project is one of three King County construction projects that are part of the Priority Hire Program.

Over the course of a week, students received apprenticeship training, reviewed project blueprints, toured the construction site, and heard from King County employees about their work experiences and different paths to construction-related careers. The program was held in summer 2018 and students received a small stipend.

The Priority Hire Program is also working with Seattle Central College for its Pre-Apprenticeship Construction Training (PACT) program. It has funded two cohorts for the program with the first cohort celebrating its graduation in June 2018. Graduates were able to train for their chosen trade apprenticeship and determine how to overcome barriers and challenges in their field. This work aligns with efforts by the Port of Seattle and the City of Seattle, who are also taking action to invest in construction training and worker support services.

Pictured: Samantha speaking to students about opportunities in the trades industries at Yellow Wood Academy.

On a smaller scale, program staff also attend fairs, community events and conferences to speak about the importance of Priority Hire. Earlier this year, Samantha attended the Yellow Wood Academy’s Career Fair in Mercer Island to speak to middle school and high school students and teaching staff about construction apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship training. The students were introduced to career pathways in the construction industry and learned about the different opportunities that are available in this sector.

“By focusing on the equity piece and providing an access point for people, we’re able to help economically disadvantaged communities, women and people of color to get into these industries and see the opportunities for themselves,” said Samantha.

The program not only helps provide access to opportunities for diverse candidates but also addresses the reality of a retiring workforce and labor shortage. By keeping new, talented people in the pipeline for these positions, and developing an approach that creates respectful, acceptable worksites, the Priority Hire Program is one more way in which King County is preparing a bright, equitable community for all.

For more information about the Priority Hire Program and to read success stories about how it is making a difference in King County, visit www.kingcounty.gov/PriorityHire. For additional information contact Samantha Kealoha, Labor Equity Program Manager, at 206-263-5856 or SKealoha@kingcounty.gov.

To read the official March 2018 announcement from the King County Council, click here. The Seattle Times also featured the program in an article for its innovative and community focused approach to job creation, which can be read here.

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