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Laid Off Workers Turn to PCC for Help
Photos and Story by James Hill
by Susan HerefordMary Welch is looking for a new job. She managed an assembly line at Portland Epson for 12 years, supervising 45 employees. Many were immigrants and refugees with limited English speaking skills. Welch, along with 850 Epson employees, got layoff notices last August. The company was moving its computer printer manufacturing operations overseas. "They closed down three-quarters of the company. They kept the robots and laid off the humans,"she said this fall from a crowded resource room at the Capital Career Center, PCC’s short-term training center in Washington County. Welch achieved some satisfaction 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 is using the resources at the center for her job search, plus she is upgrading computer and office management skills. She 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 support group specifically directed to the high-tech industry. Often, 25 to 30 people attend the weekly Wednesday meetings. Engineers, project managers, chemists, marketers and human resource professionals share tips and help each other stay confident. Becky Meier, a PCC Capital Center career specialist, facilitates. Of the current situation, she said, "We adapt. We put our arms around one another. We are going to help you as much as you help us help you."Oregon officially moved into a recession in October. The unemployment rate jumped to 6.5 percent. In the Portland Community College district, which covers all or parts of five counties metro-wide, companies who use the services of the college’s Dislocated Worker Program (DWP) laid off 6,000 workers between May and October.Jesus Carreon, PCC President, said, "The community college, with our strategic partners, provides people with training opportunities and help getting back into jobs. The workforce development 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."PCC administers the region’s DWP program at three metro locations in a partnership with Mt. Hood Community College. The program helps dislocated workers in Multnomah and Washington counties get job training and help finding jobs. According to Nan Poppe, who is the dean of continuing education at PCC and is in charge of the program, 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."Poppe said they are currently working with 16 metro-area companies, providing layoff services. Portland Boeing is one of those companies. The dislocated worker program’s rapid response team was there for the October layoff announcement. Almost 300 employees got notices. Dec.14 was 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. The four-member team met with Boeing employees. Many of them were lathe and machine tool operators, or were in assembly, plating and painting. "All in all, we did information sessions for people in 62 different job classifications,"said Clark. The team helps people start the process of job search before the layoff occurs, she said. 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 recently 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 manufacturing jobs that are low-skilled, but high-paid. Today as we look at the situation, the economy 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."Laurie Anderson is taking the process to heart. Anderson was laid off last summer as a customer service manager for Vtech Communications, an international company that manufactures cordless telephones. After seven years in a job she described as "extremely intense,"she is looking forward to the change. "I decided with the classes, perhaps I could look for an office supervisory position ? They (career center staff) are very dedicated. The resource center is great and offers all it can to help people in the job search."I’m not really worried about it,"said the single parent Tigard mom with a 15-year-old high schooler at home. "I know that the perfect job is out there for me and it will come along. I’m excited to find out what will happen,"she said. To provide help to more people, PCC and its partner Mt. Hood have applied for additional federal funds through the regional workforce development agency, worksystems, inc. "We’re going to need it,"said Poppe, "to get people retrained."