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New training program to bolster skilled trades workforce amid booming market, worker shortage.

PMG: FILE PHOTO - There is still a need to train more construction workers as the older generation retires in massive numbers. PeopleReady Skilled Trades introduced a new workforce training program in Oregon on Jan. 4, 2021.

Despite unemployment hovering around 7% and other economic repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic, Oregon's construction market continues to power on — along with an ongoing shortage of skilled trades workers.

To help fill the workforce gap, PeopleReady Skilled Trades introduced a new workforce training program in Oregon on Jan. 4 to provide people with the skills they need to connect to these jobs. The program is designed as a national model for PeopleReady Skilled Trades, a specialized division of PeopleReady, a TrueBlue company. Since 1987, this specialized division has connected tradespeople and work across various trades, including carpentry, electrical, plumbing, welding, solar installations, and more.

Tarrell Dawson, the company's Oregon service representative, said a pilot of the training program began Oct. 27 with six people as its organizers fine-tuned it based on early feedback. It is designed as a seven-week combination of in-person classes and online training. However, COVID forced the company to close its Tualatin training center, make some adjustments, and operate completely online through mid-December.

PeopleReady Skilled Trades is now accepting applications for the second round of courses, set to begin Feb. 16 and run through March 30. It will accommodate 10 people with physical distancing requirements, and the in-person classes are scheduled from 6-8 p.m. on Tuesdays. Participants will learn tool identification and proper storage, material identification, and other essential skills necessary for a construction career.

Dawson said participants also learn basic construction site etiquette, including the proper use of personal protective equipment and OSHA 10 training. "Our biggest focus is just making sure the people who go through the program know basic safety, basic construction practices, and how to work on a job site," he said.

The upcoming series of courses will focus on training for carpenter helpers. Based on PeopleReady Skilled Trades' analysis of thousands of skilled trade jobs in Oregon posted between October and November 2020, carpenter helpers saw a 38 percent increase in posts.

PMG: FILE PHOTO - There is still a need to train more construction workers as the older generation retires in massive numbers. PeopleReady Skilled Trades introduced a new workforce training program in Oregon on Jan. 4, 2021.

Some of the other most in-demand jobs and highest labor shortage areas in the state include electrician helpers (100 percent increase in posts); carpenters (50 percent increase); roofer apprentices (33 percent increase); electricians (20 percent increase); and plumbers (83 percent increase).

In addition to the skilled trades providing stable employment before and during the pandemic, half of the payroll workers in construction earn more than $49,030, and the top 25 percent make at least $68,690. In comparison, the U.S. median wage is $39,810 while the top 25 percent earn at least $64,240, according to the 2019 Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics.

The new workforce training program is among several established within the last few years to meet the growing demand for skilled trades workers. Among them, The Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center (POIC), established in North Portland in 1968, works with more than 1,000 at-risk teenagers and young adults each year. In 2018, it launched a pre-apprenticeship program to complement its work through Rosemary Anderson High School and the Rosemary Anderson Transitions and Work Opportunities Training.

The POIC pre-apprenticeship program is housed at the Northwest College of Construction, where trainees learn the basics of construction. In addition to other projects, trainees already have completed a buildout of walls in POIC's offices in Rockwood, and a garden shed for Davis Elementary School.

Plans for the program gained momentum as POIC President and CEO Joe McFerrin II traveled around the country and heard repeated conversations about the need for more skilled workers and greater diversity within the trades. In collaboration with NAMC-Oregon, POIC formed an advisory council to help develop the program and obtain funding from Worksystems Inc. The POIC also received funding from the Oregon Department of Education's Youth Development Council.

PMG: FILE PHOTO - There is still a need to train more construction workers as the older generation retires in massive numbers. PeopleReady Skilled Trades introduced a new workforce training program in Oregon on Jan. 4, 2021.

Oregon Tradeswomen Inc. offers a seven-week Trades and Apprenticeship Career Class that is a state-certified, pre-apprenticeship class for women, and it recruits workers through its annual Career Fair. The National Association of Women In Construction Pacific Northwest chapter also provides opportunities for education, mentorship, career and job leads, and technical training.

Dawson said the PeopleReady Skilled Trades program differs from other programs because graduates receive one-on-one job coaching and access to the company's pipeline of in-demand jobs in the state.

He checks in with customers the first day of a trainee's job site work to do what he calls a "reliability check." Dawson ensures the trainee showed up on time and met other basic expectations. A second job site visit, or "skills check," evaluates whether trainees have the necessary skills to do the job well. At the end of a project, Dawson asks the customer for feedback about the trainee's overall performance.

"We always do that last step where we talk about strengths and areas that need improvement so we can say, 'Hey, here are some areas where you can do better,' or 'You did that really well and just make sure to do that on your next job," Dawson said

Melody Finnemore (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) is a contract writer who regularly contributes to the Business Tribune.


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