PCC / News / October 13, 2008

Demand grows for well-trained welders

Photos and Story by

Kerri Hines

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Welding instructor Matt Scott would pull his hair out if he had the time. But he doesn’t.

Scott is too busy trying to serve the ever-growing student population wanting skills in the welding trade and helping local companies fill their burgeoning demand for skilled welders. Only problem is that the welding program’s facility at the Rock Creek Campus can only serve so many students – a bottleneck of Olympic proportions.

“What we have is a very busy time out there with the need for welders and thanks to our job placement office at PCC, we are able to post jobs as they come up,” said Scott, welding instructor. “We have a lot of opportunities for our students once they graduate. So the key is, they come to PCC welding and gain the skills they need to go be successful out in the industry. ”

The welding shop at the Rock Creek Campus is tight for space, as the program tries to wedge a series of booths inside their area to serve the different types of welding they teach. For instance, the stick welding booth, which helps students learn shielded metal arc welding and is one of the building blocks for any welder, has just 15 booths. Even though the program is open entry, open exit format, often times students must wait in line to use the facilities.

More than 340 students are served per year at Rock Creek, with a waiting list of 80 to 90 students at any given time.

“Although stick welding is a fairly old process, it is the base of all of our welding processes. So once a student learns to stick weld they can transition into the other processes very easily,” Scott said. “So with 15 booths we may end one term with 20 students wanting to stick welding training. So we really need to grow.”

The college and some of its welding partners have tried to alleviate the pressure. 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 this summer.

“For a long time we have been wanting to bring our skill trades, and welding in particular, over to the east side.” said Nan Poppe, president of the Extended Learning Campus and PCC’s lead on forging the relationship. “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.”

Where's the President? [/caption]The joint welding training center, on a 64-acre of industrial facility that includes 20 different companies, offers 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.

“This is totally not possible without Portland Community College,” said Frank Foti, chief executive officer of Vigor Industrial. “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. ”

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 (26-95) 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.

“We draw a lot from the southeast side, so the students got to travel the highways to get here,” said Scott. “So from a convenience factor and in spirit of serving our community it is an advantage for PCC to move to the southeast side.”

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.

“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.

Vigor Industrial owns the Swan Island training facility and has made a substantial capital investment to develop the property into a training facility.

And, do they need it.

“Just last week U.S. Barge called us and they are in need of 20 welders,” Scott added. “Northwest Pipe called last week as well and they need 12 welders. Another partner we have, Columbia Industries, hires about two of our students a month and they plan to do that for the next year. So welding is very busy out there now.”

About The Author: James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »