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Maker's day event draws U.S. Secretary of Commerce.



PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - US Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker listens as Chris Holden of KCR shows off a red drip tank, used in fighting forest fires, which was welded at KCR, as well as some castings. The event at the Center for Advanced Leaning in Gresham was deisgned to show off the new image of American manufacuring as clean, intelligent, high-skilled and well-paid.

Zac Clayville woke up at 2:45 in the morning. By 5 p.m., he was onstage with U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker.

But other than that, Thursday, Oct. 6 was just another normal day.

The Franklin High graduate works as a tool room attendant for Vigor Industrial’s Portland shipyard. He spent most of the day “pumping water out of a box and then heating it up,” as he phrased it, helping to construct a liquid cargo barge.

Clayville was invited to the Center for Advanced Learning (CAL) charter school in Gresham for National Manufacturing Day. The celebration is part of a federal initiative to change the public’s perception that manufacturing jobs are dirty, deadly and dangerously underpaid.

“Everyone pictures a textbook greasy worker standing at an assembly line,” said Bryce Bakke, who was named CAL’s machine tool technology valedictorian in 2015.

“(In reality) 90 percent of the equipment you’re working on is extremely clean, extremely well lit — and you’re getting extremely well paid,” said Bakke, who works for fire-fighting equipment maker KCR Manufacturing.

Well, maybe for some.

When he started as an intern, Clayville said he was making $15.01 an hour. After he joined the union shop full time, he was bumped up to $19.83.

“We really are the dirty, greasy guys,” he said. “I learn with my hands. I learn by touching and doing… it’s a different environment.”

When Clayville started at Vigor, the shipyard employed about 700 people, who spent most of their time doing “rework,” fixing for the third or fourth time jobs that should have been done right once.

The company purged its less-skilled workers, and now employs about 248 welders and shipbuilders.

Then another company reneged on an inked contract, and most of the laborers thought everyone would be laid off for lack of work. Instead, the company is re-certifying to build bridges in the U.S. and Canada.

Clayville is 19 and has a child on the way. He thinks he’s making good money for a teenager, and knows he can earn even more once he’s an accredited welder.

“I thought I would be making minimum wage,” he said. “I was like, ‘Why bother?’”

Clayville will find out the baby’s gender in a month. He’s thinking Stanley would suit a boy, and maybe Evelyn if it’s a girl.

Makers Gone Pro

Back at CAL, it’s all smiles for the rest of the Makers Gone Pro showcase.

The 526 students from Centennial, Reynolds and Gresham-Barlow spend about half the school day at CAL, segmented into different programs for mechanical engineering and manufacturing, digital media and design and health sciences for medical and dental.

There’s also the Change Lab, which teaches budding entrepreneurs how to start their own businesses.

Classes are 80 to 90 minutes long, and teach the skills employers actually want, according to school director Carol Egan.

“The students that apply (here) are like the outliers of East County,” Egan said. “CAL kids know how to leave a good phone message.”

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JOSEPH GALLIVAN  - Dylan Dement, Tungsten Inert Gas (TIG) Welder at KCR.

Manning one of the stations that Pritzker visited was Dylan Dement, a Tungsten Inert Gas (TIG) Welder at KCR.

"I was in Pathways to Manufacturing program and got exposure to a lot of small firms in the area," Dement told the Business Tribune. "I did an internship and then contacted Chris the KCR owner and got a job there. The ties to Impact helped.”

Dement's day is usually 8 am to 4.30pm, 40 hours a week and he gets $12.50 an hour. Most of his work peers – many from Centennial – get paid the same. The lead designer gets more. He hopes to get into X-ray quality welding for beer tanks and food grade kettles. X-rays check for air pockets, which should not be in a high quality weld.

“With TIG welding you can weld any metal," said the 20-year-old in his A Day To Remember T-shirt. "You’re using three limbs at a time, you have your foot for the gas, your torch with the electrode, and your filler metal in your left hand.”

Dement, 20, likes his work. He has one friend in landscaping, but a lot of his friends went into manufacturing. They were self-declared "shop kids."

“We were not quite math, not quite science. I feel like shop kids are their own kind of thing. My first car was a 1966 Mustang, I worked on that in shop,” he says with some pride.

He's not worried about ever losing his job to a robot.

“I started welding in my sophomore year in Centennial high school, four years ago. TIG welding is too precise to be robotic. Usually it takes more skill than a robot has."

Manufacturing has an outsized impact on the Oregon economy.

About a quarter of Oregon’s GDP is generated by manufacturing and heavy industry, compared to 12 percent nationally, according to the nonprofit Oregon Manufacturing Extension Partnership.

The U.S. Commerce Department estimates that the nation will create 2.2 million new manufacturing jobs between now and 2024. About 30,000 of those jobs will be in the Portland area, though some of the positions will be created by retiring workers, not growth and expansion.

“We’re not going to put technology back in a box, as the president would say,” Secretary Pritzker explained in an interview. “We’re not going to go back to when everything was handmade, so what we need to do is make sure our young people… have the opportunity to have the right type of skills to participate.”

Zane Sparling, with additional reporting by Joseph Gallivan

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