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PCC student using a CNC machine.
Saundra Sorenson
Published: 15 March 2023

Portland is going to need more advanced machinists in the coming years. Portland Community College is launching a new program to make sure a much more diverse community has access to training that could land them in positions that average $60,000 a year–and which can prove creatively fulfilling.

“It’s an art and a science, and being able to blend your knowledge and vision with the plans to make what someone really is asking for,” program dean Carrie Weikel-Delaplane told The Skanner. “It takes a lot of inquiry and creative conversations to get there sometimes. That’s one of the pieces that’s been really highlighted by employers: The ability to know machining but also the ability to look at something and think about continuous improvement.”

Weikel-Delaplane oversees the fledgling The Next Generation Machine Manufacturing Technology initiative, which recently received $300,000 from the Higher Education Coordinating Commission, in the form of Future Ready Oregon Workforce Ready funding. These grants are specifically earmarked for projects that foster innovation among “historically underserved and marginalized populations.”

The Next Generation MMT will reach this demo in large part by partnering with PCC’s Opportunity Centers, located at the Willow Creek and Portland Metro Workforce Training centers. Weikel-Delaplane described the Opportunity Centers as “a one-stop location for folks to learn about education and training opportunities, as well as other potential benefits that they may be eligible for based on their personal, financial and familial situations.”

“To me, the opportunity center is really the front door to the community,” she said.

“They have really deep connections with community-based organizations within our service district, and so what we wanted to do was work with community-based organizations to determine how best to support their clients or their customers or their communities.”

Community-based partners include the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, Central City Concern, Centro Cultural and Native American Youth and Family Center.

Community Involvement

One way to reach potential students is by combining the opportunity center’s two-week Discovery Series courses, which invite low-income participants to learn about specific fields from industry professionals, take part in hands-on demonstrations and get further information about continuing education at PCC.

“To that end, because the OC intentionally recruits from those populations, we thought it would be a really exciting project to go ahead and make strong connections between these two-week Discovery Series, the community-based organizations and their folks to see, ‘What was this experience like? Did it make you think you want to go into advanced manufacturing? Why? Why not?’ So we can really understand, what are barriers from folks thinking about careers in machining advanced manufacturing? And what possible things could we do to make ourselves as accessible as possible to diverse students from all different backgrounds?”

It is part of innovative thinking on PCC’s part, she said, and a recognition of not only a changing job market, but changing educational preferences.

“There are just crazy needs for hiring folks, especially in advanced manufacturing,” Weikel-Delaplane said.

“We’ve got the baby boomers all still retiring, and then we’ve got the pandemic, there are going to be less high schoolers just in general because of the demographic shift.”

Concurrently, she said, “The enrollment at community colleges is shrinking. Less and less people are thinking about college, and more and more people seem to be thinking about very short-term training. So the OC is a place where we really target our priority populations, because we still need more people to be represented – more people of color, women, folks from all different backgrounds.”

The program draws inspiration from the two-week Intel Quickstart training program, with participants guaranteed an interview with Intel at the end. Through grant funding, PCC has been able to offer a stipend to those in the program.

Participants then have the opportunity for a $1,000 scholarship, should they commit to a one- or two-year certificate or degree path with PCC.

“We have a waiting list of over 400 people trying to get into this program,” Weikel-Delaplane said. “Part of why that is, we’re realizing, when you’re trying to train folks to come from a low socio and economic place of income, paying them to do it, to participate, that removes a big barrier. We’re interested in continuing to explore how we can replicate that model moving forward for other areas.”

For more information, visit pcc.edu/programs/machine-manufacturing.

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