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Laid Off Metro Workers Turn to PCC for Help
Photos and Story by James Hill
Across PCC’s 1,500-square-mile district, people are getting layoff notices and are turning to the college for help. One PCC program, the Dislocated Worker Program, has served almost as many people in three months, between July and September, as it did all of the previous year. But there is hope. The college program for displaced workers has an 81 percent overall placement rate and every day moves people from unemployment to good-wage jobs.PORTLAND, Ore.?The jump in the unemployment rate to 6.5 percent has moved Oregon into a recession. In Portland Community College’s district, which covers all or parts of five counties metro-wide, companies who use the services of the college’s Dislocated Worker Program laid off 6,000 workers between May and October. People are looking for work. They are also entering short-term training programs at PCC, using job search services at the college’s metro-area workforce training centers, and networking for job leads. They meet with counselors, practice interviewing, upgrade their computer skills or update their resume. According to Nan Poppe, dean of continuing education at PCC, the need is immense. "We’ve been running since July to meet the demand,"she said. "Last year, we served about 1,400 displaced workers through the program, but in just one quarter, between July and September, we had already enrolled 1,200 people. And this does not factor in the huge freightliner layoffs, the catering companies, the airlines, following Sept. 11."PCC administers the region’s displaced worker program in a partnership with Mt. Hood Community College to help dislocated workers in Multnomah and Washington counties get job training and help finding jobs. Jesus Carreon, PCC President, said, "The community college, with our strategic partners, is a vital link connecting people to training and getting back into jobs. Workforce development activities we provide, historically and in this current environment, will help solve a major piece of the economic downturn in our community, in our region, and throughout the state."Poppe said the program is currently working with 16 metro-area companies to provide layoff services. Portland Boeing is one of those companies. The dislocated worker program’s rapid response team was there for the Oct. 11 layoff announcement. Almost 300 employees got notices. Dec.14 will be their last day of work. The team did assessments of company competitiveness and looked at the skills of the workforce. They set up information sessions for employees. PCC’s Gayle Clark, a member of the rapid response team, is on the front line, entering companies the day an announcement is made, to help workers make the transition. "All in all, we did information sessions for people in 62 different job classifications,"said Clark. She said the four-member team met with Boeing employees, many who are lathe and machine tool operators, or are in assembly, plating and painting. The team, she said, helps people start the process of job search before the layoff occurs. At Boeing, and at other companies, the team will often stay on to conduct on-site job search workshops to help employees get started on the search. Clark said the challenge this past year is that "more and more, there are not jobs that pay comparable wages. People need training to fill a skill gap or prepare for a different type of work. And the reality is that you don’t start new work at the rate you had. You have to build up to it. Much of the downsizing is going on in jobs that are low-skilled, but high-paid. Today as we look at the situation, it is the economy that is the villain.""I know my work sounds depressing,"she admitted, "but it is actually extremely rewarding. You provide people with really good, clear information and then walk them through the process."To provide help to more people, the college is currently working with the regional workforce development agency, worksystems, inc., To garner additional federal funds to help people during the rapid downturn in the metro area. "With 6,000 layoffs in six months in our district,"said Poppe, "we are going to need additional funds to help people."Mary Welch is one of those laid off and now looking for a new job. She worked for Portland Epson for 12 years and managed one of the assembly lines, supervising 45 employees. Many on her line were refugees and immigrants with limited English- speaking skills. Last August, they were part of a workforce of 850 at Portland Epson losing jobs. The company moved its computer printer manufacturing operations overseas. "They closed down three-quarters of the company,"said Welch. "They kept the robots and laid off the humans,"she said recently from a crowded resource room at the Capital Career Center, PCC’s short-term training center in Washington County. Welch is getting help finding a new job and brushing up on her computer skills. There was some satisfaction for Welch when the employees from her assembly line were the only ones chosen to stay on and "mind the robots,"she said. However, the robot line already had a supervisor, and they didn’t need two. "This is a rough time looking for jobs. It’s easy to get down,"she said. "but this is a great resource – all the help you get with your resume, cover letter, copying, the computers hooked up to job search sites."Welch hopes to find a job as an office manager and is part of a job support group that meets at the center every Monday morning. "groups like this help you keep your spirits up ? people ask what you are looking for, share job leads, saying, ?I heard about this position,’"she said.The college operates another job club at the center, specifically oriented for the high-tech industry. Engineers and project managers share tips, and help one another. It meets on Wednesday mornings. Becky Meier, the Capital Center career specialist who runs the high tech job club, sums it up. "We adapt. We put our arms around one another. We are going to help you as much as you help us help you."