One doesn't have to be a math whiz to understand how current numbers related to the automotive industry add up.
"For every 10 master technicians leaving (the automotive industry), only one is coming in to replace them," Wryann VanRiper, an instructor in the automotive department at Clackamas Community College told the Business Tribune. "It's pretty obvious that ratio is not very good."
VanRiper and others at Clackamas Community College are hoping a recently completed project on the school's Oregon City Campus will help shift that ratio in a better direction.
The college on Jan. 31 unveiled a recent renovation of the ground floor of Barlow Hall, resulting in an expansion of the space used by the school's automotive department and its programs. The project is one of several the college has tackled over the past five years with a pool of money made up of a $90-million bond passed by voters in 2014 and $32 million in matching grant money from the state.
For the Barlow Hall project, $5.6 million was used to add new work stations and equipment to a garage area used for the automotive service technician program. Space for the autobody and collision repair program was also expanded, and the area used for an automotive program that serves high school students was doubled in size.
The expansion has been a long time coming, according to Jay Leuck, an instructor in the automotive department at the college. He thinks it will be a game-changer when it comes to attracting a new generation of automotive technicians and helping fill a much needed skilled labor gap in the industry.
"If I come across as a little amped up, it's because I am," Leuck told the audience who gathered to celebrate the completion of the expansion project.
Training the next generation
Like many industries traditionally identified as blue-collar, the automotive industry is facing a dire situation when it comes to finding skilled workers.
"The technical shortage is here, and it has been for some time," Leuck said.
The state has taken steps to provide funding to help high schools bring back vocational and career trade programs such as automotive technology and construction. However, the industry, and schools like Clackamas Community College, still face a challenge convincing people that four-year degrees aren't the only educational opportunities after high school.
Updating the spaces that serve as the home of the college's automotive department is part of that effort. The result is "two decades of dreaming and planning that this would come to fruition," Dr. Tim Cook, the college's president, said.
The college initially tried to move forward with an update to the space used by its automotive department in 2002. In anticipation of a bond passing at that time, department faculty sketched out ideas for a new space. However, when the bond failed to move forward, the drawings were set
After a new attempt at a construction bond passed six years ago, faculty members pulled out their sketches. Working with project architect Axis Design Group, those sketches served as a starting point for the recently completed expansion, according to Bob Cochran, dean of campus services.
Even before renovation work started on the automotive department's spaces in Barlow Hall, the project required some heavy-duty interior demolition work. The building was originally constructed in the early 1970s, which meant the work included asbestos abatement.
Perlo Construction, the general contractor for the project, phased work in a way that allowed the building to continue to be used.
The result is a larger garage space for the automotive service technician program. Before the renovation, the area was packed with 11 work stations, booths where students learned to paint cars, and a tool room. The rest of the area included a second-floor of outdated offices that were no longer used and served as storage.
During the renovation, walls were removed to expand the area, and 12 new lifts were added, bringing the total number of work stations to 23.
The painting booths were moved to another renovated area on the ground floor of Barlow Hall, where space was provided for the automotive department's autobody and collision program.
The expansion also added more elbow room to a space used by the college's high school automotive program. The program is open to area high school students, mainly from Oregon City and Clackamas Academy of Industrial Science, through arrangements with their school districts.
The program offers high school and college credits along two pathways: a basic engine technician certification or an auto body/collision repair certification. Students can attend classes during the day as well as after school.
The high school program's original space in Barlow Hall was small and cramped. The space was dim, often making it hard to see, according to VanRiper. The expansion and addition project not only doubled the space the program now occupies. Overhead LED lights now brighten up the learning environment, and new equipment will provide real-world experience for students.
Among the new equipment are tire-balancing and alignment machines. VanRiper and another instructor wrote proposals for grants to purchase the pieces.
"I never wrote grant proposals until I became an instructor," VanRiper said.
Just creating a state-of-the-art facility won't be enough to solve the automotive industry's local labor pool shortage, college administrators and faculty stress.
"It (also) will require investing in and developing partnerships with local businesses," Leuck said.
Clackamas Community College has taken that concept to heart, connecting with local businesses and employers.
Businesses in the automotive industry, for example, provide internships for the college's degree students and participate in job fairs.
At the high school level, the college has a high school program for students at schools in the Wilsonville area through a partnership with World of Speed Motorsports Museum. The college provides the instructors and curriculum. The museum provides space for the classes and the cars the students are working on to earn credits at both the high school and college levels.
The college also has been successful in reaching beyond the borders of the local business community. Last year, the heavy metal band Metallica, through its All Within My Hands Foundation, selected Clackamas Community College as one of 10 community colleges across the country to receive a $100,000 grant. Known as the Metallica Scholarship Initiative, the money was handed out as scholarships to help students pursuing degrees in "the metals" like welding and automotive programs purchase books and tools. The college has been selected to receive another Metallica grant for 2020. The $50,000 the college will receive this year will be matched with $50,000 already received from local businesses, allowing another $100,000 in scholarships to be distributed to students, Cynthia Risan, dean of technology, applied sciences and public services, told the Business Tribune.
For Mark King, who graduated from the college's automotive program and is now working for a local business, receiving a Metallica scholarship allowed him to enter the workforce ready to succeed.
"The (Metallica scholarship) gave me $1,500 to go buy tools I needed for my career," King said. "I bought two spray guns that I use every day at work."
Retooling for the future
The college's automotive degree programs don't just serve young people looking to train for first-time careers. The program also provides a chance for people looking to transition from one industry to another. Lenard Bacon and Joyce Granquist, for example, found their way to the college's automotive programs after losing their jobs when West Linn Paper Mill closed.
Tapping a program that helps cover costs for displaced workers to learn new job skills, Bacon and Granquist enrolled in automotive classes. They're now gearing up to earn their associate degrees in June and say they're looking forward to finishing up their last few months in the newly updated spaces.
Bacon already works on-call for a shop in Oregon City and has started looking at possible future opportunities. Granquist said she's keeping her options open for now. But she's confident that the skills and knowledge she's learned through the college program will land her in a good-paying job.
"I can take the knowledge I learned here anywhere I go," Grandquist said.
Even as the automotive department faculty and students like Bacon and Grandquist settle into the updated digs in Barlow Hall, college administrators are turning their attention to one last project associated with the 2014 construction bond.
The college expects to break ground in March on a new student services center. Designed by Opsis with Howard S. Wright in the general contractor's seat, the project is slated to be ready for use in fall 2021.
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