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Rapid Training Retools Laid Off Workers
Photos and Story by James Hill
by Chris MooreIn 1987, Fujitsu Microelectronics built a plant in Gresham. To attract skilled people to the new site, the company invited workers at its Utah campus to relocate, all expenses paid. Diana Young was one of those who took advantage of the offer.As Diana’s family grew, she continued working for the electronics giant. Then in 2001, after more than 20 years on the job, she got laid off. At first she wasn’t sure what to do."The only other jobs I had were in fast food,"she said. "That didn’t seem like something to go back to."Shortly after being laid off, Diana ran across a flyer about a new training program at Portland Community College, one designed to prepare her for a new job in just 11 weeks. As a dislocated worker ? someone who has lost a job due to permanent layoff or plant closure ? Diana was eligible. In February 2002, she began her training as a Computer Numeric Control (CNC) operator in PCC’s Machine Manufacturing Technology program.Funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, the CNC program provides eight weeks of intensive training. In addition to learning how to program and operate machine tools, students learn the basics of resumes and cover letters, interviews, and on-the-job conduct. "One of the key elements of this model is that the class works as a team, learning together and helping one other along,"says Lori L. Miller, training coordinator. "When things go well, they celebrate together. When someone comes up against a barrier, they work as a team to find a way around it."Real-world experienceWhen the eight weeks of training ends, students are placed in three-week internships to gain some real-world experience. For some, this is an easy transition. Tom Armstrong was working in a machine shop when he first heard about the CNC training. When he got laid off in December, he applied for admission."I like working as a machinist,"he says. "It’s low stress, pays well, and offers opportunities for longevity."Tom’s goal is to find full-time employment as a CNC machine operator. In the past, he worked on manual machine tools only. Once he has a job, he plans to continue building his skills by taking additional classes at PCC.Ron Vanderzanden was laid off his job as a maintenance machinist in November 2001. With five years’ experience in the field, he decided it was time to upgrade his training by learning to operate CNC equipment."You have to be willing to continue learning if you want to keep your job,"he says. "For people who get laid off, this is a great program."A win for employers and workersRita Greenberg is Oregon human resources manager for Coorstek, a company headquartered in Colorado that makes metal, ceramic and plastic components for the semiconductor industry and other high-tech applications. She is also chair of the PCC Machine Manufacturing Technology advisory committee.This spring Greenberg has arranged for Coorstek to provide a three-week internship to a graduate of the CNC training program."We’ve had a really positive experience with PCC in the past,"she says. "The college is good at providing technical training as well as teaching people what they need to know to get and keep a job. Students who complete this program have shown they have the ability to stick to something. We know they will be good employees."Besides giving them hands-on experience, internships give students an inside look at an employer, Greenberg says. "They can find out who we are and what we offer in the way of salaries and benefits,"she says. "Internships are a great recruiting tool. It’s an easy way to attract the best people."A pathway to careersShort-term CNC training is just one of several workforce development programs offered through Portland Community College. With Mt. Hood and Clackamas community colleges, PCC is creating a variety of career pathways designed to provide adults with intense training so they can get to work quickly. Once they’re employed, program graduates are encouraged to continue their training by taking regular college classes.The Machine Manufacturing Technology program at PCC is a good example of how a college can make training more accessible to working adults. An open entry/open exit program, it allows students to start any time during the term and attend classes when they’re able. The shop is open and instructors are available 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays."From an instructor’s perspective, open entry/open exit is certainly more challenging,"says faculty chair and instructor Mike Flaman. "You never know what you’re going to be doing from day to day. Students really like the open schedule, though. It allows them to work full time while they attend school."Nan Poppe, dean of PCC Adult and Continuing Education, says, "We need to become a place where people can come back to get the training they need throughout their careers."The CNC program, as well as our entire approach to machine manufacturing technology, is designed to be flexible enough to meet the needs of both employers and employees."