—a Career Pipeline For Local Youth

Whatcom County, like the rest of the United States, is experiencing an employment crisis. Many great jobs are going unfilled because there simply aren’t enough workers seeking employment in the trades.

The jobs are out there, and a four-year degree isn’t necessary to get started on a high-wage career path. In Washington State, for example, electricians make an average wage of $33 an hour, or just under $70,000 a year and top out at around $100,000 a year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Heavy-equipment mechanics earn more than $53,000, on average, while the median salary for plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters is $58,000.

That’s good money, even if you don’t factor in the savings from not needing to pay college-level tuition.

Whatcom Business Alliance (WBA), a nonprofit membership organization, works to promote local business success and community prosperity in positive ways. In early 2018, WBA began an effort to bring attention to the importance of local workforce development, engaging with employers, educators, parents, and other stakeholders.

One of the ways WBA plans to address workforce development is through its newly launched recruitment portal, which aspires to help Whatcom County employers meet workforce needs while assisting local youth and other emergent workers in developing valuable career skills.

Operating under the umbrella of WBA’s Youth Engagement Initiative, YES Whatcom also aims to ensure that businesses have access to templates for creating their own internships and that schools have the information they need to direct youth to quick-start career options after high school.

Bellingham-based Birch Equipment has been building its workforce for years through extensive training and opportunities for development and advancement. Company leaders see great advantage in working with the WBA on programs such as this, said Cara Buckingham, Birch Equipment’s Information Director.

“Both the Youth Engagement Initiative and YES Whatcom are business-driven,” Buckingham said. “They highlight the magic of entrepreneurship and the dynamic work cultures that have always been positive forces in our community and state.”

Through the platform, businesses are enabled to build direct relationships with area school districts to find innovative ways to prepare, train, and attract up-and-coming talent.

“A lot of energy is being spent to educate kids and families about diverse career pathways and to spread the word about the depth of local opportunities for jobs, apprenticeships, work-based learning programs, and more,” Buckingham said.

That is what was created to do, said WBA Board Member Laura McKinney, the Human Resources, Government Affairs, and Public Relations Manager at Alcoa Intalco Works.

“I know that employers in our community have had a difficult time engaging with students,” McKinney said. “At the same time, youth in our community often ask how they can get a job at prime employers in Whatcom County. That’s where can help.

Some key employers in Bellingham, Lynden, Ferndale, and throughout Whatcom County have entry-level job openings listed on’s job board: Alcoa Intalco Works is hiring full-time production laborers; Enfield Farms needs case handlers; Custom Concrete is looking for concrete laborers; Samson Rope is hiring machine operators; Christian Health Care Center is offering free training for healthcare careers; and Birch Equipment is hiring a store representative.

Visit online to view college-alternative jobs in Whatcom County or to post a job opening and set up a company profile. For more information, call YES Whatcom at 360.746.0418 or email program representatives at