Westside manufacturing crying out for skilled labor
Is there life after high school without college?
Westside students turned out for National Manufacturing Day to explore this idea Friday, Oct. 6.
Students from robotics teams at Wilsonville and Glencoe high schools brought their creations to Lam Research in Tualatin for an early morning display of STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) proficiency.
Lam Research makes the tools that are used by companies like Intel to make computer chips, such as memory and central processors.
The company is booming, erecting a giant new structure on Southwest Leveton Drive. But Mike Snell, managing director of Tualatin manufacturing at Lam Research, said the company is desperate to find talented students and experience workers to take on both entry level and highly skilled work.
"Across most industrial economies, there's a shortage of skilled people in the STEM fields, including welders, electricians, engineers, electrical technicians, everything in short supply," said Snell. "The technical needs are advancing but less people are entering the field."
Manufacturing is still a big part of the Westside economy.
"People believe manufacturing is gone, which is mistaken. We've had a significant increase in productivity but we're still hiring," Snell said. "We've added more than 700 people to manufacturing at this site, and it's similar with suppliers that are local. There's a lot of work available, everyone's struggling to hire."
To celebrate National Manufacturing Day, Oregon Manufacturing Extension Partnership teamed up with various education, workforce and manufacturing stakeholders throughout Oregon to host free educational events, tours and job fairs for hundreds of high school students to learn about careers in manufacturing.
As well as a Mobile Makerspace on display at Lam, which teachers can borrow at no cost to their budget, two successful FIRST robotics teams showed off their wares.
Glencoe High School had a machine that could scoop up large whiffle balls and shower them through the air. Wilsonville had another that threw a basketball-sized "boulder" (really a sponge ball) about eight feet into the air, toward a low hoop. (It can also extend its front and perform a pull-up.)
Nathan Tidball of Wilsonville High said he learned a lot from his two years on the team, about electronics, design thinking and collaboration.
Was the idea of Manufacturing Day for him to come and look for work?
"The idea is to work for Elon Musk," Tidball said. He will do a STEM degree in college.
Duck or Beaver?
National Manufacturing Day is designed to expand knowledge about high-skilled, high-paying jobs in manufacturing and the industry's economic impact on Oregon.
Later in the day, Catherine Geer's engineering and computer science class at Sunset High School went down the road to Tosoh Quartz near Beaverton.
At Tosoh Quartz's Building 3 on Northwest Science Park Drive, Sunset High students watched how giant cylinders of quartz glass were cut, ground and polished into circles which are used in chip making. (The glass is pure and resists high temperatures, and is a good surface for etching microprocessor circuits with acids and high-pressure gasses.)
The building was a converted warehouse, with swamp coolers to keep the temperatures down, dust bunnies clinging to the walls, and few creature comforts beyond water jugs and ear plugs to block out the constant whining of the motors. A finished, perfectly polished ring of glass is worth about $1,500.
Entry-level jobs in roughing — where new recruits can do the least damage — pay around $14 an hour. With experience, workers move down the line to more skilled tasks where they might eventually make closer to $25 per hour, according to Clyde Loftis, director of manufacturing at Tosoh Quartz.
Turnover is mixed. On one hand, 18 percent of the staff have been there over 20 years. On the other hand, 20 percent have been there less than one year.
The students took in the tool crib — where computer numeric control machines are fixed and their bits are sharpened — and the packing area, where the quartz "windows" are stacked on blue foam inside blue boxes for transportation.
It was all a bit overwhelming, and by the end, they were out of questions.
Snell, of Lam Research, summarized the skill shortage: "People have lost touch with the opportunities of manufacturing. They think of an assembly line or foundry. Now there's more precision required, all of our work is inside a clean room. People don't have a concept of what that's like unless they come and see it. Teachers can't know about every vocation. So this event is to help tell that story, how they can make a good career in STEM related fields. We hire at every level, from high school to Ph.D. We have an insatiable demand for good people."
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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