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Welding partnership reinvigorates industry
Story and video by James Hill. Photos by Vern Uyetake.
The manufacturing industry needs qualified, trained welders to meet demand. Portland Community College, in partnership with Vigor Industrial, is helping to meet that need.
Vigor Industrial and PCC have joined forces to open the Swan Island Training Center, 5555 N. Channel Ave. The facility provides welding training opportunities that support the local manufacturing industry. The partners unveiled the new training center on May 30.
“This is a great day for business and this is a great day for Portland Community College,” said Nan Poppe, president of the Extended Learning Campus and PCC’s lead on forging the relationship. “We for a long time have been wanting to bring our skill trades, and welding in particular, over to the east side. And it hasn’t been easy and it has been a long road. But we’re so excited because this is a piece where college and industry have come together to really fill the talent pipeline that we’re going to need to keep our economy vital.”
The joint welding training center, located on a 64-acre industrial facility that includes 20 different companies, offers an evening shift of classes that are exactly the same as what is offered through the welding program at the Rock Creek Campus. Now, students can get training at the Swan Island site rather than travel across town to Rock Creek. The classes are offered between 5-10 p.m. with an initial capacity of 20 students at a time. The PCC Foundation will award one student a one-year scholarship in name of Vigor Industrial.
“This is a huge day for this place,” said Frank Foti, chief executive officer of Vigor Industrial.
Foti said they started a training program 10 years ago but the industry took a turn for the worse, and Vigor had to close their Shipyard University. He added that the company tried to be their own teachers, which he admitted was too much for them to handle.
“And our business crashed at the same time,” Foti said. “But this is a rebirth for this place and we’re so excited to see this happen. This is totally not possible without Portland Community College. This time we were fortunate to find a partner that teaches for a living, and who teaches what a whole market needs, not just what we need. We are one customer for PCC and not the only one. Eight weeks ago we sat down with PCC for the first time and today we have opened a 24-unit training facility for welders. That is awesome and is a testament to them.”
Skilled welders are a key labor component for manufacturing companies and, locally, there is a shortage of well-trained workers in this vital trade. If passed, the college’s $374 million bond measure on the November ballot would build on this partnership. It would add career training facilities for welding on the east side and renovate the welding labs at the Rock Creek Campus. Much of the east side expansion would occur at the Southeast Center.
Companies on the east side of the Willamette River, such as U.S. Barge, Vigor, Service Steel, and Columbia Wire & Iron, have the potential to expand their workforce by taking advantage of the training opportunities that the Swan Island Training Center provides. U.S. Barge, a joint venture between Vigor Industrial and Oregon Iron Works, recognizes this advantage and has expanded Vigor’s partnership by sponsoring the first five students.
“This puts more people in position to develop their skills, which improves all of our businesses here as well as meets the great need for skilled employees in the Portland metro area,” said Corey Yraguen, CEO of U.S. Barge.
Interested students can sign up for classes by going to the welding program’s website. The Swan Island Training Center is not an official campus, so administrative functions will be performed at PCC’s Southeast Center. Vigor Industrial owns the Swan Island Training Facility and has made a substantial capital investment to develop the property into a training facility.
PCC currently offers welding only at the Rock Creek Campus, where college officials say more than 340 students are served per year, with a waiting list of 80 to 90 students at any given time.
“We are so excited to offer welding on Portland’s east side,” said Preston Pulliams, PCC president. “We hear from business and industry almost daily, asking for more highly trained workers. The need is vital.”
One note of interest is that PCC will use the Swan Island Training Center as a tool to connect to local high schools that have discontinued their vocational programs. In addition, the center will be a place where welders could go to up-skill and re-train as jobs get more technical, which means expanding the center to a day shift.
“We have visions for things much bigger,” Poppe added. “I’ve been really proud to work with this team and the folks at Vigor.
The program at Vigor Industrial was made possible when the 2007 Legislature boosted funding for Oregon’s 17 community colleges, after several years of disinvesting in higher education, according to Dana Haynes, public affairs manager for PCC.
“We wouldn’t be here if the community colleges weren’t awarded some extra money in the last session,” Poppe said.
Among the people attending was Jim Harper, chairman of the PCC Board of Directors and vice president of administration for Morrison Child and Family Services. And for Harper, the opening offered a coming home of sorts. “I took my welding training back when PCC taught it at Forest Grove High. It wasn’t much but it got me started,” said Harper, who later worked a welding job on Swan Island to pay for college.
Vigor Industrial, LLC is a privately held company headquartered in Portland, Oregon. Rooted in a long tradition of craftsmanship, the company offers integrated ship repair, vessel construction, and related industrial services to public and private sector clients. Vigor Industrial’s corporate structure enables it to align resources seamlessly across subsidiary companies and geographical regions to best meet customer needs.