If people didn’t know who the PCC welding program’s friend is already, they do now. It’s third-generation owner of Columbia Industries Jeff Van Raden, who went to bat for the program and the college in front of the Oregon legislature.
Van Raden testified in front of the Joint Ways and Means Education Subcommittee in March. The subcommittee was gathering information from community members about the proposed $458 million budget for community colleges statewide. Van Raden said his company is constructing a new building and will need to hire 20 more welders to staff it for the projected increase in business.
The larger $529 million budget asked for by community colleges would help expand the welding program and put more welders into the market. Without it, Van Raden said the lack of available welders would crimp his business.
“PCC has helped us,” he said. “This is a very critical institution for us. You just don’t go out and grab 20 welders. That doesn’t work. This is an opportunity for the state to recognize the community college’s work. We need to stand up and do what is right.”
A member of the PCC Foundation’s board, Van Raden is very familiar with the college’s welding program at the Rock Creek Campus. He serves as the chair of its advisory committee and in the past has been a member of the welding advisory, National Science Foundation advisory and the NSF grant evaluation committees. He has also loaned equipment to better prepare the students, and has donated his time and money to help make it a stronger department.
“Jeff Van Raden is what I would consider a true partner to our department,” said Matt Scott, welding instructor. “He has helped us out for several years in many different capacities. He’s our spark plug.”
Columbia Industries, which employs 15 former PCC students out of its 50-person workforce, makes solid waste equipment and self-propelling systems for oil rigs. Working with international oil companies, they have 140 modules – systems that can transfer 8,000 pounds of capacity – operating on North Slope in Alaska. They plan to expand into China and Vietnam to grow their operations. To accommodate this expansion push, the company built a new facility on its acreage in Hillsboro. The new facility will need additional welders to help operate 20-ton cranes that will build oil derricks and masts.
Van Raden will continue to lean on PCC to help train those new welders. He first discovered PCC in 1973 when he completed his high school courses there after leaving his school. In 1975, he enrolled in PCC’s mechanical engineering program, earning his degree in 1977. Despite not taking the traditional route to completing his high school requirements, Van Raden carried a 4.0 GPA at the college and went on to the University of Portland where he got a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering.
“I had a high school counselor tell me that high school and math weren’t good for me,” he said. “At PCC, I discovered I was a very good student and had great math skills. Math has become part of my life. It turned out to be fun and the PCC instructors were good at closing the gap so that anyone could have success at it.”
When he finished his education he realized how valuable PCC was to his success.
“That’s when I became a proponent of PCC,” Van Raden said. “It opened a lot of doors for me.”
Van Raden took his degree and joined the family business as a welder and then eventually became a salesman. When he worked his way up to director of marketing for Columbia Industries, he was in charge of hiring the welders.
“I found myself looking for friends again,” he said. “The first thing I did was call the welding program at PCC. I asked if they had anybody that could work for us. Now, I go over there and make myself known as much as I like. The door is always open.
“They have a strong knowledge of manufacturing’s needs,” he added. “I love them to death. I appreciate their effort. The employees we get from them you can’t get from job placement people.”