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Programs in industrial technology host workforce symposium
Photos and Story by Kate Chester
Faculty and staff representatives from PCC’s Machine Manufacturing and Welding programs, partnered with the Portland Development Commission and Pacific Northwest Defense Coalition to host a workforce symposium at the Sylvania Campus on April 22. Also participating were representatives from similar academic departments at Clackamas and Mt. Hood community colleges, as well as the Customized & Workplace Training departments at each school.
Nearly 50 people, from both industry and higher education, attended the event, which kicked off with a breakfast and was followed by several panel discussions. Kevin Johnson, a senior program manager with PDC, moderated the first panel made up of industry leaders from Columbia Steel, Premier Gear & Machine Works, HW Metal Products, Inc., and Vigor Industrial.
According to Pat Kraft, who organized the event and teaches Machine Manufacturing at the Sylvania Campus, the symposium’s purpose was to share knowledge and resources between industry and local community colleges.
“Based on conversations and meetings we’ve had with industry, it’s clear that there’s a disconnect between what they know about local community colleges and the industrial technology programs offered,” said Kraft. “Likewise, those of us in higher education need to have a better sense of skill sets these employers need from would-be employees. That way, we can best educate our students and make them as competitive as possible when they enter the marketplace.”
It was also an opportunity to get a sense of trends in the industry. According to panelists, there is an age gap where much of their workforce is dominated by people right out of college and people close to retirement.
Retention can be an issue, too. After years of training at a company, an employee can be offered slightly better pay elsewhere, perhaps in a bigger city, and opts to leave. The employer takes the hit and has to start over to invest in training a new employee, Kraft said, and when those longtime employees retire, employers are faced with a skills-based hole and may have to scramble to plug it.
Most importantly, the panelists emphasized a need for professionalism among employees who are the ones that will succeed.
“Reading, writing, math skills, a solid work ethic; you give me people with those skills, and I can work on the rest, I can build on it,” said Dave Randall, human resource manager with Columbia Steel. “I can teach people with those qualities how to become machinists.”
Discussion also focused on education reimbursements and opportunities for employees to take classes at local community colleges while working. Linda Gerber, president of the Sylvania Campus, welcomed attendees at the breakfast that morning.
“The symposium enabled all of us to get a real sense of what industry’s needs are, as well as the local resources, such as our community colleges, to deliver on these needs,” said Gerber. “It marked a great start for even greater things to come.”