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By Abe Proctor of The Skanner
Published: 30 November 2005

Pictured: Portland Community College Skills Center instructor Marcia Jannsen, left, instructs student Max Faulk on how to remove a CD-ROM drive from a computer in order to repair it.

A direct investment is being made in the future economic health of North and Northeast Portland thanks to a $150,000 check Gov. Ted Kulongoski presented Monday to the Skills Center at Portland Community College's Cascade Campus.

The grant, part of the Oregon Department of Transportation's Workforce Development Plan, will benefit the Skills Center's efforts to train women and minority workers for careers in the skilled trades. In particular, the money will help train transportation construction workers for ODOT projects.

"Oregon ranks among the top five states nationally in construction job growth, and this grant will help us build on this success by creating more opportunities for employment in the highway construction trades for more of our citizens — particularly women and minorities," Gov. Kulongoski said at the presentation ceremony.

The Workforce Development Plan is a two-year pilot project intended to increase participation among women and minority employees in Portland metro-area transportation construction projects. Its goals are to achieve employment levels for such projects of 14 percent for women and 20 percent for minorities.

The funds will boost the Skills Center's — and the community college's — principal role in the community: preparing people to participate in jobs that are essential to the economy but that don't necessarily require a four-year or graduate degree, said Cascade Campus President Algie Gatewood.

"It's a great opportunity for the residents of Portland, particularly those who live here in North and Northeast Portland," Gatewood told The Skanner. "It will make a tremendous difference in the success of our community."

Gatewood acknowledged the efforts of state Sen. Margaret Carter, D-Portland, and state Rep. Chip Shields, D-Portland, for helping PCC win the grant.

"Rep. Shields and Sen. Carter both realize that we (PCC) can provide the training and help people to connect with living-wage jobs … or we can support these individuals in a different venue — the criminal justice system," Gatewood said. "The senators and representatives who represent this area are approachable, and they seem to respond positively to things that make sense for the people."

The campus's Skills Center prepares students for jobs in some of the traditional "hands-on" trades —  including carpentry, construction and electrical work. In addition, it provides training in "pre-employment" skills — the things that everyone needs to know to get a job, such as how to craft a resume, how to prepare for and execute a job interview, even the importance of being prompt and following directions.

"We bring in the life skills, the foundational skills, the pre-trade skills that people will need for the particular industry or apprenticeship that they're moving on to," said Randall Blakely, director of the Skills Center.

Part of that pre-employment training, Blakely said, particularly for the transportation construction work that the ODOT grant pays for, involves educating workers on the often-seasonal nature of their work and the money management skills that such work entails.

"Sometimes you have to learn to skillfully handle your money, because sometimes you'll have a stint of working followed by a stint of not working," Blakely said. "Learning the nature of your industry is critical."

Another facet of the Skills Center's mission is providing its students with the math abilities required by many of the skilled trades, Blakely said.

"We have individuals with good arithmetic skills," he said, "but what (the trades) often want is some type of college-level algebra, so you can understand formulas or at least understand fractions so you can do the kinds of measurements and calculations that are necessary on the job."

The Skills Center also helps people with their attitudes and expectations, added Blakely. Since enrollment has increased in colleges and universities over the past several years, many people perceive a career in the trades as less than glamorous. The Skills Center helps teach students that being a tradesperson is necessary, honorable and, most of the time, a way to earn a good living.

"A lot of people in the younger generation … want a desk job, or they want to go into business administration or they want to become a marketer," Blakely said. "We teach them that the trades are good industries and that they can start at prevailing wages of $20, $25, $30 per hour.

"Working at a prevailing wage like that can mean a very good career for them."

Viewed from a community perspective, workers like that can take their wages and spread that wealth around the community by purchasing, investing and even starting their own businesses, Gatewood said. It's this concept of community, he noted, that is at the heart of what his college does. He credited Gov. Kulongoski for realizing this and helping to facilitate the $150,000 grant.

"We appreciate the attention that the governor is giving to this community and this campus," Gatewood said. "We appreciate that he understands and supports the needs of the people here."

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