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The Workforce Development team's programs come at no cost to the individual, thanks to CARES Act funds from Washington County.

COURTESY PHOTO - Portland Community College's Willow Creek Center.If learning is half the battle, Washington County residents who have lost work to the COVID-19 pandemic could be halfway to winning the fight.

Portland Community College's Workforce Development team, with funding from Washington County by way of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, is offering "On-Ramp" courses for those most seriously affected by the economic downturn, to better equip county residents to navigate today's rocky employment waters.

Many of those residents worked in a variety of positions, but many more were employed in retail or hospitality jobs — two of the hardest hit demographics.

"Retail and hospitality positions are historically not the best paying jobs, and so people (in those positions) were already basically at a point where they were breaking even with their families, if they we're breaking even at all," Workforce Development team manager DaNene Dwyer said. "So, what the county is really looking to do is to provide people with an entryway into education, so that they can really take advantage of this time and allow families to scale up in a way that allows them to have a living wage job that has growth potential for their family."

As part of the On-Ramp program, PCC's Willow Creek Center is offering services that connect Washington County residents to education and employment; help them explore in-demand careers, build skills, and identify transferable skills; and offer courses in advanced manufacturing, healthcare, construction and trades, and more, at no cost to the participants.

Dwyer cited examples of people who've started at entry-level manufacturing positions, then advanced from an entry-level wage to as much as $60,000 per year in as little as three years.

"Many of those same people are then able to purchase homes for their families," Dwyer said. "And that's a pretty exciting opportunity for Washington County residents."

While the program aims to aid those suffering as a direct result of the pandemic, Workforce Development coordinator Kali Giaritta noted that it would be difficult to argue against anyone currently unemployed not falling into that category, due to the indirect complications stemming from the coronavirus' continued presence.

"Regardless of when you became unemployed, one's job search is going to be affected by COVID-19," Giaritta said. "There are more people looking for work, companies aren't letting people on-site, and it's hard to access resources that are usually available."

Dwyer said that the contact tracing program has been popular to this point, in many ways due to the short turnaround and numerous opportunities in its wake.

COURTESY PHOTO - Inside at Portland Community College's Willow Creek Center.She also mentioned other healthcare services, along with trades and construction as popular programs, the latter which can lead to a bevy of pre-apprenticeship programs.

"Construction offers someone within a pretty short amount of time, to be on a job site and make a living wage," Dwyer said. "And later the potential to become a journeyman."

Programs range from two to three weeks, are held via Zoom, and offer the flexibility to work around people's varying schedules.

Two of the more frequently asked questions regarding the program are: From a technology standpoint, how does it work? And from a more tangible standpoint, where am I going to end up?

Giaritta said they're happy to walk a person through the technology issues. Regarding where the program can lead, it's more open-ended.

"It's really up to the person and their goals," Giaritta said. "You don't have to end up at the same place as your classmate. One person might choose to jump right into their studies, whereas another will choose both employment and education at the same time."

With the understanding that many people, young and old, aren't entirely sure of the direction that best suits their individual desires and skills, Workforce Development also offers one-on-one coaching to help people get a better grip on what best suits them, along with help them build career awareness.

As part of that process, PCC is partnering with local companies to create videos that show people exactly what a potential workspace and job look like.

Giaritta said that beyond the visual benefit of the videos however, is the interactive aspect that heightens their understanding of how a specific job works.

"They actually get to interact with it," she said. "So they can look around and see, 'Oh, that's the job I want.' And they can not only see what the person's doing, but hear what they're saying as well."

Ultimately, PCC and the Workforce Development Team's On-Ramp programs are here to help. They're about providing information, education and guidance for Washington County residents who have been, are or will be looking for work. Yet beyond that, it's not entirely about a job, but also about a career — something they aim to help provide.

"It's really about helping people set up realistic expectations for themselves on what they can handle, and then really helping them to develop that plan of action for themselves," Dwyer said, "so that they are reaching milestones, and we're assisting them as they're reaching those milestones."

You can learn more about PCC's On-Ramp programs by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or calling 971-722-2688.


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