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Job fair at Clackamas mall aims to introduce new workers to decent-paying construction jobs.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Kristian Skjervem, 58, (left) came to the job fair looking to change from HVAC to being a dump truck driver. He set up an interview with Keith Beach of concrete company Knife River, who is looking for CDL drivers.

While Oregon's unemployment rate has dropped from the pandemic peak of 18% to 5.2% in July 2021, the job market is mixed.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - A jobseeker at the job fair in the former The Children's Place at Clackamas Town Center. The fair was the first of four each Wednesday in September and was focused on construction trades. Employers are keen to hire both skilled and unskilled workers. 
Low-skilled, high-stress jobs such as food service and moving packages are proving hard to fill as people reassess whether they want to risk COVID-19 to work two or three jobs without health benefits to pay their rent. And there is also a skilled worker shortage as Boomers retire — especially in fields such as construction where schools cut back on trade education, leaving teens with no experience of getting their hands dirty. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 235,000 in August, compared to 2021's monthly average of 586,000. While job gains occurred in professional and business services, transportation and warehousing, private education, manufacturing, and other services, employment in retail trade declined over the month as COVID-19 revived under the delta variant.

In Oregon, there is a scramble to entice workers to all sorts of jobs, from the skilled trades to driving and laboring. To this end, Clackamas Workforce Partnership is holding four career fairs at Clackamas Town Center covering the construction, service, healthcare, and manufacturing industries. The fairs are coordinated events with WorkSource, the Oregon Employment Dept. and Clackamas Community College.

At the first job fair, on Sept. 8, 17 job seekers showed up. Tables were arranged around the bright, white room, which only had the BOYS and GIRLS signs remaining from when it was The Children's Place clothing store.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Gabriel Salamanca, Regional Business Specialist at WorkSource Portland Metro, chats with a passer by at the WorkSource-organized job fair on Wednesday Sept. 8, 2021, at Clackamas Town Center. The weekly fairs are being held in a former children's clothing store.


Aaron Pilcher is currently a Carpenter Helper at Portland Metro Carpenters Local Union 1503. His dream is to build up his construction company, EXP, to perform subcontracting work for general contractors — especially hanging drywall.

Pilcher does a lot of work for Open Door and Zillow, the online real estate companies that now buy up homes to flip. He comes in and completes checklists such as changing door pulls and patching drywall. He's keen to transition from certain types of work.

"I found myself in like a 12-inch crawlspace one time," Pilcher said. "Now that put a bad taste in my mouth. I've been stuck in one before." As a subcontractor, he's both a worker and an employer and wants to expand his business by taking on more work.

"Labor right now in the area is really hard to find, so one of the main goals that I had was to cross-pollinate," Pilcher explained.

PMG PHOTO: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - Marcus Ball (left) was there on behalf of Constructing Hope, a "second chance" organization that helps people overcome barriers and enter the construction industry. (They agreed to lower their masks briefly for the photograph.)

Second chance friendly

Marcus Ball, 46, was there on behalf of Constructing Hope, a "second chance" organization that helps people overcome barriers and enter the construction industry. He explained that they run a 10-week pre-apprenticeship program, with presentations about different trades, such as being an electrician, a roofer, a carpenter, or a plumber.

"Anybody can get in, but we mostly focus on the BIPOC community, people that have obstacles, fresh out of incarceration, and different things like that," Ball said.

A plumber by trade, Ball now works more in job development. Having done time in Salem at the Oregon State Correctional Institution and the Oregon State Penitentiary, Ball is living proof that people can turn their lives around. The pre-apprenticeship program is free, funded by corporate and government sponsors. Students must write a research program as they go and commit to showing up on time and staying engaged. The first week is always OSHA week to learn about the importance of safety and get different OSHA certifications early on.

"They have to be over 18, but the average age is probably 30," Ball said, explaining many of them want to turn their lives around and find a family wage job. "We're starting to veer towards a solar power and solar energy certification and the Earth Advantage certification."

Participants get hands-on time volunteering on the remodel of the Allen Temple church located in northeast Portland, a historically Black church.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - A jobseeker at the job fair in the former The Children's Place at Clackamas Town Center talks to reps from DLUX flooring company (right).

Concrete plans

Kristian Skjervem, 58, has worked the last four years for his friend's HVAC company but came to the job fair looking to change careers and become a dump truck driver. Keith Beach, representing concrete company Knife River, made a persuasive case for aggregate hauling, and Skjervem was sold. He arranged to visit the company Monday morning at 10 o'clock.

"I'm trying to get a job at Knife River to be a mix truck driver," said Skjervem. "Right now, I work for Pacific Northwest heating and cooling. I do HVAC, and I'm getting to the age where I no longer want to crawl under houses and be up in 116-degree attics in the insulation. I think driving a dump truck is super simple, and I can do that for another 15 years." Skjervem added the wages would be almost double what he makes in HVAC.

"It's not like I don't make decent money. I do. But I want to make more money at an easier job, and that's just being wise," said Skjervem.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Juan Coronel who is in preventative maintenance and sales Hunter Davisson Inc, a HVAC company, talks to job seekers about not just steady work but the company culture where they encourage workers to use their vacation time.

Angela Stinchcomb is an administrative assistant at Knife River for the paving department, where workers pour concrete and asphalt.

"We need laborers and heavy equipment operators, and CDL (commercial drivers license) drivers are a big deal right now." Stinchcomb said a heavy equipment operator earns between $19 and $24 an hour to start, rising to $29.15 after 90 days of training and probation. Someone with no experience can start work as a laborer, raking pavement or working in the yard, then ask to be trained as a driver or operator.

Keith Beach said that there is a shortage of 100,000 CDL drivers nationally. His theory is people think CDL driving is all about long-haul, "over the road" driving, where you are gone for a month at a time. "Our drivers average 200 hours of overtime a year, but you're in your own bed every night," said Beach.

Knife River makes the concrete and delivers it, but crews from different companies lay it down. Driving is a huge part of the job. Beach, who drove for FedEx himself and for Coca-Cola, said, "It's not the type of truck driving that is throwing sugar water all day long, 15 stops, breaking your back, and moving as fast as you can for 13, 14 hours," Beach said.

"Our trucks are very volatile, a concrete truck, when it's fully loaded, it's got 40,000 pounds of concrete just inside that barrel. The truck itself weighs 32,000 to 33,000 pounds empty, and it's a very high center of gravity. We're very, very top-heavy going around corners and prone to rollover, so it's a specific type of driving that's not just driving around town."

It takes training to back up down a ramp that maybe leans to one side.

"We literally tell our drivers to slow down, take your time, be safe. The concrete will get there when it gets there."

Skjervem added, "There's a lot of skill involved, a lot of common sense and knowledge of physics and reactions."

PMG PHOTO: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - Fresh high school grads Jorge Meza (left) and Christopher Dominguez-Ford were looking for drywall hanging and taping work. (They agreed to lower their masks briefly for the photograph.)


Recent high school grads Jorge Meza (in Nikes) and Christopher Dominguez-Ford came looking for drywall hanging work. Dominguez-Ford's stepdad does taping but not hanging. Dominguez-Ford thought it might be doable. He looks online but hasn't found anything.

"This is my first time coming to something like this," said Dominguez-Ford. "It's just hard to find like my specific trade for drywall hanging. I've been making calls all over like asking tapers if they know anything." He knows the work is out there. "Most definitely. I just can't seem to find it." They were welcomed at the job fair and had several conversations.

Meza was there as Dominguez-Ford 's buddy but was wondering if construction work would be viable for himself while he takes pre-nursing classes at Clackamas Community College. (Meza also intends to play baseball for CCC.)

"I don't really know how to do anything, obviously, but I'd be more than happy to learn," said Meza. "I could learn from him, tag along. Learning it would be nice, to know how to do stuff."

Future carpenter of America

PMG PHOTO: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - In a former children's clothing store at a job fair in Clackamas Town Center, Kelsey Barry, 24, said she got interested in the skilled trades via Oregon Tradeswomen. She wants out of retail work and into laboring and then carpentry. (She agreed to lower her mask briefly for the photograph.) 
Kelsey Barry, 24, loved to work with children in the same job as her mother for Metropolitan Family Services, but it didn't pay well. "I didn't go to college," said Barry. "I've worked a lot of oddball jobs, food, right now I'm at a pizza place, and retail, Marshalls, Party City, loading in the back." The pay was OK, but the work wasn't inspiring. "It wasn't giving me that drive."

Her dad loads trucks with a forklift. She enjoyed building theater sets in high school.

Barry got interested in the skilled trades when she heard about the group Oregon Tradeswomen. She wasn't accepted for the pre-apprenticeship but will reapply in a month. In the meantime, she wants some hands-on experience as a laborer or carpenter. "I'm really ready to get on that boat of chopping some wood, hammering stuff together. Whatever it is, I'm excited."

Joseph Gallivan
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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