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Community Colleges Strike High-Tech Training Agreement

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This opinion piece appeared in the editorial pages of the Beaverton Valley Times, the Tigard Times and the Tualatin Times on Dec. 5.

by Mike Hereford, Portland Community College Board of Directors

Sharing. Collaboration. Responding to industry and community needs.

Important concepts. Sadly, when it comes to education, Oregonians hear the words, but don’t always see the action.

There’s been much in the news about higher education’s engineering programs and who will educate engineers for the high-tech industry. After a year of wrestling with the issue, which at one point prompted the Governor’s intervention, the state board recommended just minor changes.

Meanwhile representatives from Portland Community College and Mt. Hood Community College have quietly been meeting with the Portland Development Commission for some months. Their goal: to design a semiconductor industry training agreement that actually puts the words into action. They put pen to paper and accepted the new agreement Nov. 20.

The colleges will jointly develop and share training curriculum, pool faculty, facilities and equipment. The agreement covers a variety of training needs for the high-tech industry — technicians seeking two-year degrees; entry-level operators who typically train for 12 weeks and then learn on the job; and upgrading for existing employees.

The demand is great. By the year 1999, 6069 technicians and operators are needed in the region, according to an April 1995 report prepared by the Semiconductor Workforce Consortium, a group of industry, government and community college representatives. Interestingly, the numbers contrast greatly with the report’s stated need for engineers with bachelor’s and master’s degrees — just 810.

High-tech companies have deplored the lack of local employees for the burgeoning industry. Oregonians want the jobs to go to Oregonians. Community colleges face a tall order: providing more than 1,000 ready-to-work employees each year using limited training resources. With the recent passage of Measure 47, there are even more concerns about meeting the demand.

"The need for technicians and operators is so great that no single institution can supply it," said PCC President Dan Moriarty. "This is not an issue of competition and turf battles, but instead how to meet the growing needs of this industry and maximize opportunities for Oregonians."

There is precedent for the PCC-Mt. Hood agreement. Two years ago, both community colleges were offering programs in electronics engineering and electronics servicing, duplicating efforts and resources. Rather than compete for students, they agreed to offer one program at PCC, and one at Mt. Hood.

In another arrangement, when employees were needed for Gresham-based Fujitsu Microelectronics, Inc., PCC helped Mt. Hood supply students and training.

There is an overriding reason for the synergistic success community colleges demonstrate when it comes to collaboration and resource sharing. The concepts are deeply rooted in the community college culture. They are part of its mission.

PCC President Dan Moriarty has often talked of the twin themes of responsiveness and responsibility: we must know our community’s needs and then find ways to meet them by sharing resources and partnering with others.

The Nike slogan, "Just Do It," seems apt for Mt. Hood, for PCC and for many other community colleges. In my time serving on the board of directors of Portland Community College, I have experienced a climate that rewards innovation and collaboration, that promotes flexibility, that reduces the fear of failure when trying something new.

In politics it’s said you can get great things accomplished if you don’t mind letting others take the credit.

The community colleges have taken care of business, efficiently and without a lot of fanfare. It’s time for them to receive some attention for their efforts and for staying true to their mission, despite dwindling resources and tougher times.

Mike Hereford is a board member of Portland Community College and a resident of Aloha. He represents Zone 6, which includes parts of Washington County.


Susan Hereford

Media Relations Manager

(503) 977-4421