First Person: Commentary by Bennett Johnson, CEO of DePaul Industries

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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

{safe_alt_text}There are a lot of good manufacturing jobs and students who need them. Let’s make the connection.

By Bennett Johnson

`As CEO of DePaul Industries, I spend a good deal of my time working with other business people in continual efforts to strengthen Oregon’s competitive edge. In my involvement with various local industry groups, from the Northwest Food Processor Association to the Clackamas Business Alliance to the Workforce Investment Council of Clackamas County, one theme is constant: Our success depends on a sustainable, trained workforce.

Business people are concerned about workforce talent and training. Many of us believe that with global competition pounding on Oregon’s door, the business community needs to take action to maintain a competitive manufacturing industry that supports living-wage jobs and economic growth.

Manufacturing is an essential element in the overall Oregon economy. The service sector and agricultural industries do not sufficiently diversify Oregon business. In Portland, manufacturing jobs are growing at a steady rate each year. More workers will be needed.

Our schools seem to focus on college degrees. However, not all high school graduates are college-bound, and not all good jobs require a college diploma. More and more I am hearing that jobs with very strong wage potential are going unfilled because graduating high school students are unaware of careers available in the manufacturing industry.

Too often schools ignore career opportunities in manufacturing. If students see college as the only option, that is a limited canvas, fitting for only a portion of the student population. Many jobs in industry aren’t related to a four-year degree; they are skilled and technical jobs. Industry needs to make sure educators have a broader view, and together the two sides can make a powerful impact on the future of our youth.

While attention is focused on the importance of higher education, and rightly so, more consideration should be paid to an area that has real career potential. I am not talking about jobs that will top out at $15 per hour. I am talking about jobs that with experience and some technical training have the potential to pay $50,000 to $75,000 in less than five years. For those who move into supervision and management, the earning potential is even higher.

Industries also need to work harder at reaching educators to demonstrate that manufacturing jobs can provide viable careers. Companies need to hit the pavement, spreading the word that they have some exciting opportunities with highly technical jobs that can enable people to work toward a prosperous future.

DePaul Industries operates three distinct businesses: Temporary Staffing Services, Security Services, and Food and Consumer Goods Packaging. We recently started developing closer relationships with our area high schools to offer work and training opportunities for clerical jobs. We are targeting 18-23-year-olds who are not necessarily college-bound.

It was not very easy in the beginning. We had a few false starts, but through effort and determination on both sides we are now working together effectively. Graduates of this free program are given first crack at clerical positions through DePaul Industries Temporary Staffing Services. We are just now beginning to see the first crop of graduates head to work.

Future plans include summer work programs in our manufacturing plant. For many, we expect this will be their first experience on a production floor. It is the perfect opportunity to see what jobs are available in this type of industry.

There are living wage jobs available in manufacturing that can offer many individuals prosperity and a solid career path. Getting the word out will require commitment on both the part of industry and our schools.

There are good people who need good jobs, good companies looking for capable workers, and schools that need to help students with career choices. Pick up the phone and make the connection. It can be that simple and solve so many problems.

Bennett Johnson is CEO of DePaul Industries in Portland and a member of the Workforce Investment Council of Clackamas County.

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