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For Vanessa Walker, it was a big moment. 

Walker became interested in welding by watching videos, and on an early December visit to the Port of Tacoma’s maintenance building got a chance to try it for the first time. 

That was pretty cool. I can definitely see myself doing this as a career,” Walker said. 

Walker attends Willie Stewart Academy and joined a group of high school students on their second tour of the Port, which focused on the variety of jobs in the maintenance department.  

Port of Tacoma maintenance staff showed the students how to weld and talked about career opportunities at the Port and in the maritime and industrial trades. 

For Koemi Tsuji, a student at Oakland High School, the “huge opportunity” was clear. 

I mean, they're practically begging us to come work for them. And it's a good job, good benefits, good pay, good community,” Tsuji said.  

A shortage of trade workers is a concern for leaders in business and the Port of Tacoma, where Commissioners adopted a Workforce Development Strategic Plan. 

At their December 19 meeting, commissioners approved a contract with Workforce Central to expand career pathways through paid work experiences or internships in the areas of building trades, manufacturing trades, maritime and logistics trades, and the environment. 

“This is an exciting step forward in our commitment to growing the workforce of tomorrow,” said Port of Tacoma Commission President Kristin Ang. “We want to make sure the people of Pierce County are connected to the opportunities provided by family wage jobs.” 

For 2024, Workforce Central guarantees to place at least nine people in paid internships, and at least 23 in paid work experiences 

Workforce Central anticipates 80 percent of participants will successfully complete the program by either securing employment or enrolling in a program that continues career advancement training. 

The new workforce development contract comes as the Port of Tacoma and Tacoma Public Schools collaborate on a new Port Maritime Center planned beside the Foss Waterway. 

The campus will feature new administrative offices for the Port beside the school district’s new Maritime|253 skills center, which will provide career and technical education for students across Pierce County. 

The Port is currently in the master planning process for the site and invites public feedback through an online open house 

Also to promote workforce development, the Port restarted an internal summer internship program for college students, is a regular presence at career fairs across Pierce County and hosts the Tacoma Youth Marine Center on its property 

In 2022, the Port provided funding to help bring the marine center’s new training vessel, the M/V Doolin-Rogers, into regulatory compliance. 

The Port regularly provides tours for high school students, giving an up-close look at seaport operations that can spark an interest in maritime careers. 

Vanessa Walker was among the students at December’s welding demonstration on a return visit to the Port, as part of a program sponsored by the Washington Alliance for Better Schools, in partnership with Tacoma Public Schools. 

“I didn’t really expect to come back a second time, but then I found out I was, so I was really excited.”