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As economy dips, dislocated workers turn to PCC

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Nearly 900 workers from Western Star Truck division of Daimler Trucks North America, formerly Freightliner, will eventually be laid off due to a plant closure here in 2010. Instead of being tossed onto the street without any prospects, most will have skills and an idea of what employment they can transition into once the plant closes.

This is thanks to the Rapid Response Team at Portland Community College’s Dislocated Worker Program. It is helping those who have already been laid off and will be laid off between now and the closure. The team of specialists goes to a company and introduces the workers to WorkSource Oregon resources, refer them to skill assessments, and give workshops on interviewing techniques, how to construct an effective resume and networking.

“We can’t say enough; we’d be lost without these people,” said Wayne LaRochelle, human resources manager for Western Star, of the Rapid Response Team. “We have been severely impacted by the downturn in the economy. The members of the team agree to come in before each shift starts and after it’s over to train, answer questions and explain programs to the workers. They are extremely flexible and helpful.”

LaRochelle said the skills provided are a lifesaver. Many of our workers, whose average age is 49, started work right after high school. Now, as work slows and the plant gets ready to close, many employees will need assistance in learning how to transfer their current skills to a new job or learn new skills as they change careers.

They are great people, he said, but the skill sets learned in manufacturing are not as transferable in today’s market. Most people will need assistance identifying their work skills and how to apply them when seeking reemployment.

His company isn’t alone. Other firms that PCC and its partners responded to include closures of GE Security, which affected 220 people, 116 at Food4Less and 110 at Sauer-Danfoss; and layoffs of 180 at Nationwide Insurance, 150 at Tektronix and 100 at DHL. In total, PCC’s Rapid Response Team has aided 3,148 dislocated workers within Multnomah and Washington counties since July of 2008.

Partners of Rapid Response Team include Mount Hood Community College, the state Employment Department and Labors Communities Services Agency, which provides additional resources to union members. The team is funded through the state’s Department of Labor and Worksystems Inc. PCC serves Washington County and most of Multnomah County.

When a company alerts the team that layoffs are being planned, PCC organizes meetings with the human resources department of the firm to establish the types of services best suited for their workforce. For Western Star there are some unique challenges.

“Some of them don’t have high school diplomas and have limited English speaking skills,” said Gayle Clark, member of the Rapid Response Team, who is in her 11th year with the team. “There are quite a few challenges to overcome so that we can make sure they transition better.”

The next step is meeting with and surveying the workers about their needs. As layoffs start, a resource table is set up in the business where staff answer questions and provide support for the workers. The team will also coordinate workshops for the workers to develop transferrable skills, help them with the Employment Department’s I-Match Skills program, posting resumes to a Web sites, identify their skills, how to write a resume and how to sell themselves to prospective employers.

“(Western Star) has been very good at contacting us early and laying out the array of services they need,” Clark said. “Workers do better when there is less stress on them because they are not wondering ‘What will I do?’ It’s very fulfilling for me to see a result, where a person’s stress level is eased when they can come to you to get answers. We do this at no cost and our time is devoted to them. I think it provides a level of security for everyone involved.”

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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