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Skilled workers have choices in job market

Tracy Rumpca is on the hunt for engineers and machinists.

He needs them for Ascentec, an 11-year-old, cutting-edge engineering and manufacturing company in Tualatin.

That’s why he was manning a table at Mt. Hood Community College’s largest job fair on Thursday.OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Tracy Rumpca, left, and Minh Luu of Ascentec Engineering talk with John Marshall at Mt. Hood Community Colleges annual job fair Thursday. The 120-employee Tualatin company is looking for machinists and engineers.

“I need to fill the pipeline,” said Rumpca, operations manager for the 120-employee company. “I want to excite people about machining.”

If you have skills — or are willing to learn them — have good work habits and can pass a drug test, it’s a good time to be looking for a decent-paying job. The Portland area’s unemployment rate is 4 percent, the lowest in history. That’s why MHCC’s event center Thursday was filled with more than 100 companies and agencies hunting for employees.

There were government agencies looking for police or border patrol officers and emergency dispatchers, health systems looking for nurses and health care workers, and internet companies seeking technicians.

“I go to every college,” Rumpca said. “But I get my new hires from here.”

The Portland Bureau of Emergency Communications needs 911 dispatchers, said trainer Vickie Rogers. If you can get through 18 months of training you can make $25 an hour. The bureau hires 18-20 dispatchers a year.

“Because our training is so long, we always have to be planning ahead,” said BOEC’s Brenda Fahey.

Portland Internetworks, a 22-employee internet technology management company, is always on the hunt for technicians who make $30,000 a year to start but who can eventually take in $100,000 yearly. The market for technicians is very competitive, said Marketing Manager Riki Montgomery.OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - More than 100 companies and government agencies spent four hours at Mt. Hood Community College on Thursday recruiting prospective workers. The fair was the colleges largest by 20 percent.

Gresham area still struggles

While jobs for trained workers in the Portland area may once again be plentiful, East Multnomah County continues to struggle to recover from the recession of 2008-09.

Christian Kaylor, the Oregon Employment Department’s workforce economist for Multnomah County, says the Gresham area is the biggest part of Oregon “not sharing in the state’s economic prosperity.”

“Gresham has struggled and largely failed to recover, especially compared with Portland and the region as a whole,” he told The Outlook.

Kaylor, at the request of the governor’s office, spent the past year studying the economy of East Multnomah County. Here’s a bit of what he found:

- Average wages of a Portland resident is $65,634; in Gresham the figure is $43,293.

- Portland wages increased 13 percent from 2010 to 2014; Gresham’s dropped 15 percent.

- Employment in Portland increased 10.4 percent from 2010 to 2014; in Gresham it increased 3 percent.

The Gresham area has a strong manufacturing base, Kaylor said, but those businesses were hit harder in the recession and are slow to recover. The Gresham area is now creating jobs at one third the rate of other areas of Portland.

Portland’s growth has been led by the growth of “professional” jobs that fill office buildings, said Kaylor. That includes law, engineering, research and development, accounting, marketing and the like.

“Look around,” he said. “Gresham has very little of that, and that has been the strongest component of the recovery in Oregon and the U.S.”OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Vickie Rogers, left, and Brenda Fahey of the Portland Bureau of Emergency Communications recruited potential 911 disptachers Thursday at MHCCs annual job fair. The agency hires 18-20 dispatchers a year.

Job training

Still, if you are in the machinist, automotive, cyber security or nursing/health care programs at MHCC, you are in demand.

Manufacturers are asking for help finding entry-level employees or upgrading skills of current ones, said Jarrod Hogue, associate vice president of workforce innovation at MHCC. These include companies such as Leatherman Tools, Microchip, Boeing and other firms in the Columbia Corridor.

Students in MHCC’s technical programs, Hogue said, are looking to upgrade their skills, start a second career, leave a service job or have lost a job.

There are 30 students in the college’s two-year machine tool program. “They name their jobs,” said Hogue, starting at $17 an hour with a ceiling of $30-50 an hour.

The same is true for graduates of MHCC’s automotive program, especially those in programs sponsored by Ford, Chrysler and now Subaru. They make $20 an hour to start.

“The stigma of years past with someone being a grease monkey is long gone,” Hogue said. “It’s very technical. It’s not an easy program to get through.”

The college has Oregon’s only cyber security program whose graduates start at $20 an hour.

“There’s a lot of growth and a lot of interest,” Hogue said. “No longer is it just for large companies, but any business of any size with sensitive data.”

At the suggestion of industry, MHCC is preparing to roll out a new program in 2017: Mechatronics. Hogue said these students will be trained as technicians to install, troubleshoot and repair robots and automated manufacturing systems.

“If you come out of school with a trade now, there’s likely a job waiting for you,” Hogue said.

Teaching jobs

Once again, it’s a good time to land a job in public schools. During the recession, schools slashed budgets and laid off staff. Now that budgets have stabilized, there are fewer teachers coming out of colleges, and those who once stayed put are now moving about.

“All school districts are in a supply and demand situation,” said Randy Bryant, human resources director for the Gresham Barlow School District. “And that’s why we’re out there recruiting.”

The Gresham Barlow district has about 1,050 employees — 650 licensed teachers, counselors and administrators, and 400 support staff. This spring and summer it expects to hire 100 people to start in August, replacing staff who retire, move or just resign.

There is great demand for kindergarten and math/science teachers and special education staff, Bryant said. The rush for teachers has even affected the available pool of substitutes. During the recession the substitute pool was big, Bryant said, but it has now dried up so much that Gresham Barlow held meetings this year to recruit.

“We have been as a district going to or arranging these events to expand our pool,” he said.

Bryant said a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree will make $38,600 a year before benefits; one with a master’s degree is paid $43,800.

“Teaching is not something that can be shipped overseas and has to happen locally,” said Malcolm McCord, a career counselor at MHCC.

Career advice

The flood of jobs has had an effect on MHCC and its programs.

In a recession, students who once may have started college to upgrade or change skills, are finding jobs.

Hogue and Bhaktirose Dawdy, MHCC’s job fair and career service coordinator, says many companies are asking how they can help keep people in two-year programs to ensure better skills and training. Or, companies ask for help with tuition reimbursement plans, work schedules and “how to keep people working while also going to school,” said Dawdy.

Employers emphasize that new workers “just have to be really versatile and prepared,” Dawdy said. That also applies to being able to deal with co-workers and customers who are more diverse.

“Workers need to be good with all kinds of people,” she said. “It’s a skill set they really need to have.”

McCord said new workers must have another set of what he calls “soft” skills. Employers want people who can show up on time and work in a team environment.

“Punctuality is hugely important,” McCord said. “We can train people on many skills, but we need to be there on time with good work habits.”

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