OMIC gets into gear
The pieces are falling into place at OMIC, the Oregon Manufacturing Innovation Center in Scappoose.
Portland Community College has just brought Chris Holden as PCC's new training director at OMIC. Holden owns KCR Manufacturing and has been charged with making sure that when they arrive in 2018 the apprentices at OMIC have the right curriculum.
OMIC has two parts (see sidebar): the R&D center and the training center. PCC will build the training center in Scappoose near the airport for completion in the fall of 2019. For now, Holden is setting up a temporary training center in Scappoose High School.
Holden is familiar from his work with the manufacturing program of study at the Center for Advanced Learning, a multi-district CTE high school in Gresham. Over the last seven years he helped set up Makers Gone Pro, a Manufacturing Day event which drew middle and high schoolers and gave them a sense that manufacturing could be clean and high tech, unlike the grimy factories their parents may have warned them about.
Holden began as the OMIC training director on Oct. 23. PCC and Holden are working on setting up a world-class education center for advanced manufacturing, with buy-in from all the stakeholders.
His colleague Mohammed Maraee has been reaching out to industry to see how many apprentices they need. (Maraee is Training and Industries Coordinator at OMIC.) These include Leupold & Stevens and Enoch Precision, and other a machine shop called Piers Pacific. Out of 60 manufacturers contacted, so far seven have shown serious interest. They expect they will want around 50 apprentices.
From his wallet Holden retrieves a challenge coin with a federal seal on it. U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker gave it to him when she visited in 2016. The students at the Center for Advanced Learning in Gresham have been using CNC machines, mills, lathes and a foundry.
"I've been working to get a nationally accredited program so the high school students have a head start," says Holden. "Part of the work I've been doing is trying make manufacturers understand the value of the apprenticeship."
At the Scappoose High School, they will offer training in the evenings and weekends.
"We feel for these industries, we want to keep our competitive advantage in the local market. We know educated people and journeymen are retiring, and we don't have a lot of people replacing them."
The "ask" right now is how interested are they in joining a Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee, and if they are interested in applying for government grant funds that can also be used for on- the-job training.
PCC is designing a curriculum that combines the certificate program with the credit program. That means someone could learn how to weld and leave it at that. Or they could progress further, to a GED or a Bachelor's degree or beyond.
"We want a program that appeals to students who are in the industry but also want to pursue a degree and grow within their companies," says Maraee. Industry has been asking for more people with soft skills. "My personal take is we have a brilliant young generation that gets bored easily. We need to attract them and they need to be challenged."
The soft skills are showing up on time, but it's communication, teamwork, listening and problem solving. The technical skills are things like blueprint reading.
16 is the new 18
Holden says apprenticeships should start at 16, not 18. "OMIC was inspired by the European apprenticeship, where they start them at 16. I met some representatives of Boeing and it was the youth (in the UK) that met them and were professional and were the ones giving them the tours. They said 'We won't be able to do that here.' And I said 'Why?' That's what we are looking for here."
"I tried to do this work on my own for five years, as a small manufacturer (KCR). But the more partners I get the easier it becomes." And as manufacturers are starting to notice the skills gap, caused by retirees being irreplaceable, more of them are starting to show up.
Holden says KCR has little problem attracting the right kind of young people because he has cultivated relationships with schools and his staff are good mentors.
The idea at OMIC is apprentices will be mentored by journeymen, and when they are qualified they come back to mentor more young apprentices.
"First thing I saw was a skills gap. Then I saw this chart from BOLI, which showed U.S. manufacturing peaked in 1979, then dropped. That's when our vocational programs disappear, and our apprenticeship programs disappear. The same thing happened in agriculture. Some of it was Moore's law, some was offshoring of labor."
Maraee praised Columbia County's manufacturers. "Oregon Aero, which makes fighter pilot helmets and seats, and helicopters — four seater ones like Lamborghinis. They have great potential." They want to attract kids who go to maker fairs. "We want kids to not be afraid of machines and to create something."
Marc Goldberg has a longer history with OMIC. He is now associate vice president of Workforce Development and Community Education. Goldberg says soft skills are needed at a higher level, because team work is more important than ever.
Goldberg sums it up.
"We know that for OMIC to be successful it needs to be industry-driven, and create good jobs. We're trying to identify key occupations and then form a committee that will identify the standards for those occupations. It's an apprenticeship model, earn as you learn, not the traditional community college model of two years study. We could have the best program but if industry's not buying it it's no use."
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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