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Patterson High School, located near the city’s 1-million-square-foot Amazon.com fulfillment center, got an early jump on training future warehouse workers when it started its supply chain and distribution program in 2014.
Students get hands-on experience fulfilling orders for First Book, a nonprofit company that provides books and learning materials to children from low-income families.
When the program first began, it operated from a breezeway the school enclosed.
In early February, students showed off the program’s new 10,000-square-foot building and the equipment they’re learning to use, including forklifts and a small-scale robot.
“We went from really a nothing program — I mean, we just had a classroom — to this. I’m very happy with the progress,” said Patterson School District Superintendent Phil Alfano. “Now that we have all the components in place and all the equipment, we’ll be able to produce much higher skilled employees.”
The promise of a better skilled workforce has prompted companies such as Amazon, CVS, Granger and Restoration Hardware to partner with the school district to provide equipment. Granger donated money to get the program up and running.
The companies have also agreed to hire some of the program’s graduates. Amazon, for example, agreed to hire 10 graduates a year, but now says it would like to hire more.
“The nice thing about that agreement is typically Amazon hires on a temp-to-perm basis,” said the program’s head, Jeff Rowe. “Our graduates actually go right into permanent employment.”
Sixty students will graduate this spring, with 70 more in the pipeline, Rowe said. At least a third of the students are girls.
The school’s warehouse is run like a business with students receiving books, taking orders, packing boxes and double-checking work.
They also train with forklifts and a robotic arm.
“The robotic trainers are a small-scale version of the actual giant robot arms that Amazon has,” Rowe said. “So, our students can learn how to program those and operate those and have a leg up going to Amazon and applying for jobs there.”
In mid-January, Patterson High School also began a truck driver training program to help respond to the demand for drivers in the Valley. In December, there were 440 truck driving jobs advertised online in Stanislaus County.
In partnership with the tomato-processing company, Morning Star, candidates learn rules and regulations. Then, they move on to gaining experience with the two truck-driving simulators Patterson High School purchased with a state grant that covered the $142,000 cost.
The school also has a tractor-trailer in the parking lot so students can learn how to conduct pre-trip inspections.
Morning Star provides behind-the-wheel training. Students can also take their driving test with Morning Star because the company is certified by the DMV. If candidates pass the driving test, Morning Star will hire them for the summer packing season.
“It’s a great deal because we don’t have to do the behind the wheel driving. Morning Star takes care of that,” Rowe said. “And Morning Star needs the drivers just like every other company does, so it’s good for them. And it’s great for our students because they’re guaranteed a job.”
The first class has six adult students who attend in the evening. The cost for students to take the class is covered by a state grant.