Out-of-date training facility in Northeast Portland poses unique challenges

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The moment you talk to Abdul Majidi, you can tell he loves a challenge.

He’s the director of Portland Community College’s Workforce Development Program, which is charged with helping unemployed and underemployed people find work. Alongside its partner, the Oregon Department of Human Services, the program is housed in PCC’s Portland Metropolitan Workforce Training Center, a two-building, three-acre facility in urban Northeast Portland (42nd Avenue and Killingsworth), which serves as a community hub. First opened in 1998, those in the surrounding community have access to classes and employment training that position themselves to be competitive for family wage jobs.

“This center helps people get out of poverty,” Majidi explained. “People love what is in the heart of these buildings. We have the highest diversity of clients than any of the other PCC centers, and we serve a community that speaks 18 different languages. They know this is a place for training and to find jobs. People love it here; it’s an icon.”

Blind corners make finding rooms a bit difficult in the center.

Blind corners make finding rooms a bit difficult in the center.

Portland Metro also hosts job fairs (“Employment Marketplace”) nearly every Friday that feature local companies like Fred Meyer, Providence, Columbia Sportswear, American Red Cross, City of Portland, CostCo, TriMet and Nationwide Insurance, to name a few.

Not bad in terms of services offered at a facility originally intended to house a supermarket and electrician union hall.

“This space wasn’t built to serve students or be used for higher education,” Majidi said. “Everything has been added on through the years, and the overall space of the buildings just wasn’t designed for today’s training and education needs. The things we can do are growing, but the center can’t accommodate our growth needs.”

PCC has made do with the center’s current layout, addressing space needs as best it can but in ways that aren’t always ideal. Majidi said it’s a struggle to use the facility effectively and align services with current and future jobs. Technology in the center has been updated but the infrastructure like the wiring and speaker systems to support this equipment isn’t up to date and classrooms are awkwardly laid out. The auditorium, which seats 150 people, has no podiums and only two single-person restrooms. Coupled with tight space and the need to use classrooms for multiple purposes, and it becomes a challenge to expand offerings.

“We have had to use artificial walls as a makeshift way to make it work,” Majidi added. “And it’s not a welcoming entrance, as you are greeted with a wall and hallway that can be hard to navigate.”

Staff do their best to use rooms effectively for the public.

Staff do their best to use rooms effectively for the public.

Also, the center’s aging HVAC system is a drag on the college budget, requiring PCC to devote $2 million every year in maintenance costs.

“You can be in one room and it’s hot, while the room next door is freezing cold,” Majidi added.

Despite the challenges of the aging buildings, the Portland Metro Workforce Training Center fits with President Mark Mitsui’s mission. The president talks regularly about how the community’s demographics and economics have changed and PCC must be there to assist folks who aren’t benefitting. For example, despite Oregon’s strong economic recovery and healthy wage growth, disparities in affordability and access to education are leaving low-income and many communities of color behind. As Mitsui sees it, education has the potential to mitigate, and reverse, such statistics — to unlock the door to a better life, to prosperity, for students and their families.

For the past nine years, Massi Hunaidi has worked for the college’s workforce development division that is doing just that. She works as an accountant technician dealing with the bookkeeping, budgeting and other financial issues. She is on the front lines in helping people from the diverse North Portland community find employment and develop a better life.

“PMWTC helps them improve their skills and put them back to work,” Hunaidi said. “I’m really proud to be working here.”

This November, PCC is putting a $185 million bond measure on the ballot that would, if passed, demolish and rebuild the Portland Metro Workforce Training Center with sustainable design, improved technology and workable spaces.

Despite the challenges mentioned, Majidi and his staff have created a gem that serves the Northeast Portland neighborhoods well. Michael DiMarco, the district manager for the Neighborhood Prosperity Initiative with Prosper Portland, agrees that the training center is a focal point for the 42nd Avenue community.

“Our community has worked hard to achieve stabilization and lasting inclusion,” said DiMarco. “Employment and education are fundamental to those goals. The opportunity to grow the resources available and to expand PCC’s programming would be invaluable to our community.”

What Would the Bond Do?

The PCC bond measure of $185 million would:

  • improve workforce training programs to better align with current and future jobs.
  • invest in training for Health and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) programs.
  • upgrade safety, security, building longevity and disability access.

If passed, it is estimated to the tax rate of 40 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value for the next 16 years. Learn more about it!

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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