Valley Machines efforts prompt help from other businesses

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD -  An old broken machine just took up space until the school's donation came along. From his machine shop in North Plains, Tony Spiering has noticed the same thing as his cohorts in the U.S. manufacturing industry: there’s a huge shortage of qualified workers to fill the ranks.

Spiering wanted to do something about it. So he arranged a recent visit to Glencoe High School, where his son, Andy, graduated in 1997 before going to work at the family business and now serves as operations manager.

Spiering was startled at what he saw.

“Some of this stuff has been around since I went to Hillsboro High in the ’60s,” he says. “It’s not current stuff. ... It’s kind of the blacksmith era, and the industry has moved on.”

So Spiering — who started Valley Machine in 1992 — didn’t think twice before offering to replace the outdated machine tool with a modern one of his own, valued at around $30,000.

Rob Brauer, who’s taught in the metals shop at Glencoe for 26 years, says the partnership is a critical one in light of the Oregon skilled labor force crunch.

“My whole deal with the kids is you have to find some kind of post-high school training that will allow you to seek out those high-paying jobs,” Brauer says. “They can’t find enough certified experienced welders. They’ve had to bring some from overseas.”

In Oregon, manufacturing accounts for 20 percent of gross products, 10 percent of the workforce and $34 billion in sales. As long as Brauer has been an educator, he says, there’s been a lot of talk about partnerships between businesses and the schools, but he can only recall of two at his school, which fizzled out after a short while.

Despite the support for public education, he says, “no one’s been able to put their money where their mouth is.”

The Valley Machine donation came with a promise to clean and upgrade the shop area with epoxy painted floors, provide necessary tooling and supplies, and deliver training to guarantee a successful start-up for students and staff.

Valley also contacted Omega Morgan, a Hillsboro heavy equipment mover, who donated its services to move and locate the machine on the shop floor at Glencoe, as well as Portland’s Western Cutting Tool & Supply, which agreed to donate a new vise for the machine.

The computer numerical controlled milling machine will allow students to perform a basic function in manufacturing: “You take the electronic file, create a program that tells the machine tool what to do, load it, set it up with the right tools and the material, run it through and then it basically manufactures the part,” Spiering explains. “Everything kind of works in an automated fashion. It’s the skills of the person that’s doing the programming.”

The new machine will allow 40 to 45 students to gain additional credits through Portland Community College as part of their high school program. Brauer estimates 30 to 40 percent of his students will pursue a career in the machine industry, some pursuing a two- or four-year degree. Others will go straight into the workforce.

Spiering hopes some will come his way.

And that society will rethink its definition of student success.

“It’s a college-for-all thing,” he says. “That program is not working. The fact is, not everybody is designed to go to college.”

That said, he adds that manufacturing is a knowledge business, not the repetitive job of a guy drilling a hole.

“If you don’t have the math science and communication skills, you can’t get there. You need an education system that works and provides different opportunities for students.”

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