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Demand for welders continues to grow and PCC is training many of them

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Welding faculty (left to right) Matt Scott, Scott Judy and Kirk Ebberts take a moment to pose with staffer Aaron Gardner.

Welding faculty (left to right) Matt Scott, Scott Judy and Kirk Ebberts take a moment to pose with staffer Aaron Gardner.

The welding bays at Portland Community College’s Rock Creek Campus are packed with students.

That’s great news for local industry, which is experiencing a labor shortage. For example, shipbuilding company Vigor Industrial is one of PCC’s most valued industry partners, whose input, support and guidance enables the college to educate a skilled workforce. Vigor was awarded a nearly billion dollar contract by the U.S. Army to help construct the next generation of landing craft, and the company needs workers.

The work will be executed at Vigor’s recently acquired all-aluminum fabrication facility in Vancouver where the company expects to employ up to 400 workers by 2023. In addition to the landing craft, workers will be building high-performance military craft, workboats and aluminum fast ferries.

“A couple of weeks ago, we had the guy who’s overseeing that job for Vigor out here to walk through our shop,” said PCC’s Welding Program Chair Scott Judy. “We talked about what we would be able to do to help, because they already know that there’s not going to be enough aluminum welders on the West Coast to fill the billets that they’re going to have open.”

Judy, who is a graduate of PCC’s Welding Program, knows the impact it can have on a graduate’s career to get a job with a company like Vigor.

Kate Larimore.

Kate Larimore.

“The welding program is great, especially for students desperate to get a good job and move up in the world,” he added. “Students enjoy it because there’s so much shop time. Once they get down there and learn how it all works, all they want to do is be in the booth. It’s so hands-on, and intuitive once you get going.”

Welding student and Navy Veteran Kate Larimore is using her GI Bill to learn how to weld. With her children getting older, she felt she had time to dedicate to her education. She enrolled at PCC, and discovered how much she enjoyed welding.

“It’s so much fun,” she said. “I’m happy I chose welding. It is a skill I can use no matter where my family lives. They’re looking for welders all over the world.”

One of the benefits of the program is that students are often able to find work while they’re still completing the classes.

“Because of the way our classes are scheduled, a lot of our students get jobs before they graduate,“ Judy said. “We’re an open-entry, open-exit program. If students just want to learn one process, they can come in and learn that one process. Or if they want to go through the entire program, they can learn everything.”

PCC’s partnerships extend beyond its employer partners.

Instructor Scott shows Kevin Hagard welding technique.

Instructor Scott shows Kevin Hagard a welding technique.

The college also works in partnership with high schools across the region to offer dual credit classes. These courses offer high school students the chance to earn college credit while taking classes at their high school. Dual credit welding courses are available at high schools in Banks, Forest Grove, Sherwood, Scappoose, and St. Helens, as well as Portland-area high schools Alliance, Benson and Franklin, and Beaverton’s Glencoe High School.

“We really prioritize working with our K-12 partners, because it creates a great pipeline of talent to jump into the welding field,” Judy said.

In addition to the program at the Rock Creek Campus, PCC welding courses are also offered through the Maritime Welding Training Center. This facility next to the Swan Island shipyards on the Willamette River allows for hands-on education through the Maritime Welding Career Pathways with oversight provided by Vigor Industrial staff.

Starting in 2008, Vigor and PCC began a mutually beneficial program in which students used Vigor’s leftover half-inch steel plates for student projects. The move saves Vigor money, smaller pieces are easier and less costly to recycle, as well as providing supplies for student projects for free.

“It’s a great example of the strength of our partnership,” said Todd Barnett, welding faculty at the Maritime Welding Center.