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Pre-apprentice class boosts diversity in trades

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Bryan Comer

Bryan Comer, Student

Bryan Comer, an off and on again PCC student, has spent the better part of eight years in odd jobs in the construction industry as he tries to enlist in an apprenticeship program. However, without experience, Comer found himself spinning his wheels as he tries to earn a spot in union and non-union apprenticeship programs.

“I got discouraged before in applying to the apprenticeship programs because they don’t tell you what you need to do,” he said. “They just say ‘come again next year.'”

Now, he has hope. PCC’s Trade Extension 9000 (pre-apprenticeship) course has been approved by the Joint Apprenticeship Training Council (JATC). The pre-apprenticeship class is designed to prepare individuals looking to get into an apprenticeship program as well as encourage women and minorities for application and successful completion of apprenticeship trades. This class can be utilized by all registered apprenticeship programs in the Portland Metropolitan area as a resource for finding quality applicants for their industry.

Comer is taking the class and says it will pay off.

“For somebody with no construction experience this class is extremely helpful,” he said.

Comer, 31, recently got out of the military and has worked as a non-union roofer and most currently an installer of hardwood floors. He decided he couldn’t go much farther in those jobs and needed to find a stable career where he could find opportunities to move up. He wants to become an electrician apprentice.

“It’s unbelievable the amount of confidence and direction you get from the class,” Comer said. “It covers what I need to prepare for, so that I’m not walking blindly during the apprenticeship tests. This class is what I’ve been looking for. Without it I’d still be taking one class at a time trying to gain the skills I need.”

Pre-apprenticeship allows registered apprenticeship programs to “circumvent” some of their registered selection processes. Successful PCC graduates will at a minimum receive additional points (scores) in their chosen program. Some programs will allow graduates to apply almost immediately for apprenticeship slots rather than wait for the normal one or two times a year open application periods.

“The approved pre-apprenticeship class fits the bill perfectly,” said Dwight Page, instructor in trade extension. “This course is designed as not only a training process for the students but also a pre-screening for apprenticeships. The rigid standards set in this class are dictated by the industry demands. Without them this course would never have received the blessing of the apprenticeship programs. To them this course is used as an extension of their selection processes.”

With this approval by the state apprenticeship council, PCC graduates have the same direct entry approval as Portland YouthBuilders, Oregon Tradeswomen, and the Evening Trade Apprenticeship Preparation program run by the Housing Authority of Portland.

“During the course the students will be exposed to various construction sites to view the working conditions and visit several different apprenticeship programs to learn about the opportunities and the requirements of each,” Page added. “In essence, they will be able to make educated decisions concerning their career choice.”

Cascade Campus class chosen to increase workforce diversity

The class will use a $150,000 contract from the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) to encourage more women and minorities to enter the trades. The funding will go toward paying for tuition of approved applicants. The PCC Skill Center, located at the Cascade Campus, will bring potential applicants to a minimum educational level to meet all apprenticeship entry standards. The college’s contract with ODOT calls for PCC to deliver 50 people ready to apply for apprenticeship slots.

The Cascade Campus was chosen because its access to a diverse workforce, which has typically experienced high unemployment and suppressed wages. The Skill Center’s objective is to recruit candidates from the local area with an emphasis on minorities and females. However, the TE 9000 class is available to anyone who wishes to attend. The Skill Center will screen the ODOT-funded students and train them to meet the minimum apprenticeship application requirements. The center will evaluate the students’ life skills such as attendance, punctuality, and getting their required work completed.

“The life skills issues are a huge problem with apprenticeship programs (really all employers),” Page added. “If an apprentice cannot arrive at work every day on time, if they don’t complete the required course work, they will be cancelled immediately from the program.”

About 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 »

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