The right fit

SHS grad finds employment through CTE program

* This is Part 2 of a two-part series looking at how Douglas County schools and industry leaders are working together to guide students toward successful careers in manufacturing. Find Part 1 at

If Sutherlin High School graduates are any indication, partnerships welded between local school districts and local manufacturing businesses can be key to setting students on paths to success.

SHS 2017 graduate Carlos Lopez knew early on that he was interested in the automotive and welding industries. When he entered high school, he began taking a variety of Career and Technical Education classes taught by Wes Crawford and Josh Gary.

Lopez eventually landed in the Agricultural Business, Leadership, and Economics (ABLE) course, a capstone class where students gain valuable experience in preparing for future careers. Although he’d previously been wary of using the school’s CNC plasma machine, which cuts steel and other materials with a plasma torch, a class project motivated Lopez to give the machine a chance. He spent weeks mastering it.

2017 Sutherlin High graduate Carlos Lopez worked his way through the school’s CTE programs and found work at a local manufacturer.

At 19 years old, Lopez is now the primary operator of the high-definition plasma machine at North Star Fabrication in Sutherlin.

“That’s probably one of the most important jobs that we have in our company,” said Jack Trowbridge, owner of North Star and Great Northern Trailer Works.

Lopez had gone to work for Trowbridge after graduating and while taking classes at Umpqua Community College for a year. The chance to operate the high-tech machine was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.

“(Jack) was looking for a young, trustworthy guy who had some knowledge already in it. I guess I was the best option,” Lopez said humbly. “You don’t really get that chance too often, especially being a younger guy.”

Trowbridge said he’s worked to build partnerships with Douglas County schools since starting his business in 1984. He seeks to promote the fabrication and metalworking trades through efforts such as donating scrap metal for welding classes or providing schools with equipment and teaching students how to use it. Opportunities have grown as schools have used state and grant dollars to invest in CTE programs.

“Now they have modern, high-tech stuff that makes these kids able to operate equipment once they get out of school,” Trowbridge said. “That has been really, really good for the industry and good for the local labor pools.”

The high-definition plasma cutter at North Star Fabrication is operated by Sutherlin High graduate Carlos Lopez.

Sutherlin High School partners with several industry leaders in the area, all in hopes of connecting graduates with high-demand, high-wage jobs.

“This area has a significant number of manufacturers of varying sizes, and all speak to the need of skilled workers,” Crawford said. “Carlos is a great example of someone whose experience in high school and their own drive and work ethic has led to success.”

Lopez credits Crawford and Gary with motivating him to gain as much experience as possible through the CTE program.

“I probably wouldn’t be here, as good as I am, if it wasn’t for those two guys,” he said.

Are you interested in partnering with schools to provide our students with career-connected learning experiences, preparing them for your future workforce? Contact Brian Bray at

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