INSEAM offers free industrial sewing course
For Columbia County residents looking for work and training in new trade skills, a free industrial sewing course is now being offered at Oregon Aero in Scappoose, thanks to a consortium of manufacturers who realized they were wrestling with a looming employment gap and decided to fill it.
Dubbed INSEAM, the textile development program is the culmination of five years of effort that began with a conversation in the Fred Meyer parking lot between Kris Oman, a manager for Wesco Shoe Company, and Tony Erickson, chief operating officer for Oregon Aero.
"I said we were struggling to find employees and many of the ones we have are rapidly approaching retirement age. He said they were facing the same challenge," Erickson said.
Following an unsuccessful search for a training program to replenish the local supply of industrial sewers, Erickson said they realized that if this was going to happen, they would have to do it themselves. Enter fellow business partners, all with the same challenge: the Bureau of Labor and Industries, Workforce Investment, Workforce Investment, USIA, The Last US Bag Company, Tactical Taylor, and Alterations by Heather.
Wendy Sperberg was tapped in the beginning, around five years ago, to design and teach the sewing program. She said they needed someone with an educational background that could build the course to state approval, implement lesson plans, and establish educational goals.
"I'd been doing a lot of the production sewing because my background was all home sewing and quilting, and to transition into industrial sewing, there is a real learning curve," Sperberg said.
Northwest Oregon Works came on as a government funding source and provided resources needed to get the OSHA-approved classroom spaces up and running. The program is designed to lead students not only to a job, but to a career — if they have the aptitude and interest.
"My business places people within the active outdoor and textiles industry; and sewists, patternmakers and designers are in very high demand across the country," Amanda Normine of recruiting agency Normine Lombard said. "Success in this program can lead to a strong career which is transferable to multiple industries and multiple geographies."
Five courses throught the INSEAM program have now been successfully completed, with each class including four to five students. Eight of those students have gone on to earn employment with the skills they learned from INSEAM.
Portland Community College has also come on board, offering the ability to put INSEAM classes on college transcripts and earn official certificates of completion.
The effort, according to all involved, has been a true public-private partnership.
"I work with a lot of programs which are born through collaboration and this is one of my favorite success stories," Normine said. "This is a perfect example of state and federal dollars being put to great use in collaboration with in-kind donations."
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