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Bruce Poinsette of The Skanner News
Published: 20 December 2011

The importance of learning the trades has not been stressed enough in the black community, says Portland Community College instructor Eddie Lincoln.

"Learning the trades gives recipients skills to remodel and repair their own homes," he says. "They can take these skills and be competitive for city and county contracts in the construction industry. It offers high paying jobs with exceptional benefits."

Lincoln, coordinator of the Excellence in Trades and Apprenticeship Preparation (ETAP) program at PCC, hopes to get more students interested in the opportunity trade work provides.

According to the 2011 City of Portland and Portland Development Commission Disparity Study, only six percent of the firms available for City construction and construction related service work are minority owned. In addition, the study says 1.9 percent of City construction contract dollars are expected to go to minority owned firms.

Lincoln says learning the trades can benefit the black community in particular because when a construction trade business opens, it gives a person the opportunity to employ and train people from his/her community.

"When someone gets a contract they are in a position to improve the economic situation of the people they trade with," says Lincoln. "It gives them the ability to stimulate economic growth because money spent in the community stays in the community."

Many Portland schools don't have vocational training and others are cutting back due to budget shortfalls.

According to Lincoln, part of ETAP is a primary focus on outreach to high school seniors. The program is state certified with the Bureau of Labor and works with Portland Public Schools, faith based organizations and nonprofit groups.

It is also a paid apprenticeship, which lasts for three to four years.

"You can have a really good career without going into debt," says Lincoln. "You earn while you learn."

The admission process requires students to take assessments for reading, writing and math.

Lincoln says reading and writing are essential because trade workers need to understand technical manuals and be able to communicate clearly, both verbally and in writing. He says math is in every aspect of construction, such as working with areas, proportions and computations.

Students must score 90s in both reading and writing and a 60 in math to get into the program. This means they must perform at an 8th or 9th grade level in all the subjects.

If students don't pass, Lincoln says he redirects them to the skills center to help students develop the basics.

"All I need is willing students," he says.

Once students finish the application process, ETAP puts them through ten weeks and over 240 hours of training, much of which is hands on. This includes instruction on how to build things, hand and power tool safety and scaffolding. Students also learn CPR, earn flagging certificates and receive Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division (OSHA) cards.

At the end of the ten weeks, students receive certificates and are encouraged to apply for work with trade organizations.

Lincoln says the program has received favorable feedback from companies that have hired ETAP graduates.

ETAP has an advisory committee with representatives from a number of construction industry professionals, including Hoffman Construction, Skanska and Walsh Construction. Portland State University and TriMet representatives also serve on the committee.

"It makes a substantial difference and helps with outreach, having those professionals on board," says Lincoln.

The advisory committee plays a part in curriculum development and the selection of students.

For example, Lincoln says he gets recommendations from committee member Charles Landers, who teaches construction at Franklin High School. Landers gathers students interested in construction, or the trades in general, and has them talk to Lincoln. From there, they are directed to ETAP.

Lincoln says the community college is an ideal place for students, considering the lack of wood shop and industrial education in public schools due to budget shortfalls.

While ETAP has a focused approach for high school students, Lincoln says that the program is designed to serve all students. He emphasizes that if you have a felony on your record it won't eliminate you from the program.

"We're looking for people looking for careers that are sincere and passionate," says Lincoln. "You just have to have as much commitment as we do."

For more information, ETAP holds information sessions on the first and third Tuesday of every month at 11:30 am at PCC Cascade Campus in TEB Room 117. For more information go to http://www.pcc.edu/career/etap/ .

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