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Behind the Partnerships: Eric Haggard of Merix
Photos and Story by James Hill
By James HillEric Haggard is the human resources manager of organizational development and training for Merix Corp., a circuit board manufacturer in Forest Grove, and a partner in the PCC Entry-Level High-Tech Skills Training program. The program welcomes students who may not have considered college, have limited English proficiency, outdated skills, or minimum-wage job experience.Students are screened by PCC’s Capital Career Center in Washington County and then interviewed by a panel made up of future employers. If accepted, students enter a six-week, 140-hour, self-paced training that focuses on basic skills. Students also tour companies in the consortium and can elect a preference for a certain company. So far, Merix and PCC have recruited Matsushita Electronic Materials, Viasystems Group, Inc., and Cascade Microtech, Inc. to participate in the consortium.The two-year funding comes from several sources, including Merix, county strategic investment funds, in-kind funds from PCC and Worksystems, Inc., and state economic development funds. After that, it will become self-sustaining through the participating employers. Twenty-one students have completed the training so far this year. Haggard is a Cincinnati, Ohio native and a former basketball player for Western Nebraska University. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Concordia College and a master’s from Marylhurst University. His hobbies include chess, dominoes and most board games. He also spends his free time writing plays and crafting book ideas. He is married with two children. Q: How have you liked the move from the Midwest to the Pacific Northwest?A: I have loved the transition. The weather is better, the people are friendlier and relationship oriented. The farther East you go the more competitive by nature people are. I kind of have that in me, very performance driven. But I’ve grown in the relationship area.Q: How did Merix and PCC get together for this endeavor?A: In February of 2002, Merix approached PCC about creating a pre-employment program. This was emulating a program that was developed for Harley-Davidson in 1997. It’s designed to provide skills to individuals through a structured training program that includes business-directed curriculum. The employee can then come into our company and hit the ground running or learn at a faster rate than if they hadn’t been trained at all.Q: How does this make these students viable for employment at Merix?A: Without the training, some of them might not have strong enough skills to stand out in a group of job candidates. To complete the training speaks to their commitment, integrity and diligence, all aspects that make them very attractive to us as future employees.Q: What kind of jobs do the students get to apply for once they’ve completed training?A: They come to the facility in an entry-level position and it’s a smooth fit and a seamless transition. We train people on the technical aspects of the job. When they come here, they are the complete package. They would work various types of quality assembly type positions.Q: How has PCC been in this partnership?A: Really, PCC has been absolutely tremendous in their effort to coordinate all of this work on limited funding. It’s been an awesome grass roots effort of getting people into the classrooms and coordinating what needs to be done. The curriculum development and content was a collaborative effort. In the development, PCC met with employers on content and the level of skill we were seeking.Q: What is the most important aspect of this consortium for Merix?A: The major component for Merix is the long-term viability. We have a significant number of baby-boomer employees and as they approach retirement, they will create a void that will be difficult for Merix to fill. We are at a disadvantage because we are at the edge of western Washington County and have a limited number of people to draw upon.Q: How will the program continue funding-wise?A: The program is designed to be self-sustained. The companies pay a fee each time they select a recruit and the payments help to add more future classes. It costs three times more to train from within than through PCC. The savings to the company is dramatic. It’s a win-win situation because it’s a self-sustaining program that will help lots of people.