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Training for the future

Rogue Community College's White City campus responds to workplace needs with education programs tailored for businesses in the area

When United States Cellular came to Medford late last year, the Chicago-based company had a sudden need for skilled interviewers.

They said they had seven people who needed some training, said Doug West, director of customized training at Rogue Community College. We said we could put together a four-hour training session and asked when they wanted it. They said, `Day after tomorrow.'

The training was prepared and delivered on schedule. It's part of a broad range of initiatives for workers and businesses in Jackson County being offered through the community college.

The Grants Pass-based college's services were extended to Jackson County last year after voters approved annexation into the college district.

The college had a head start at its Workforce Training Center at the Veterans Affairs Domiciliary in White City. The VA, recognizing a need to train its patients to return to the workforce, obtained a federal grant to upgrade an underused building.

They have almost $1.5 million in the project, said Jerry Reed, RCC dean of business and community learning services. They invested it with the understanding that programs offered here would be open to the public.

The annexation enables the college to invest more in Jackson County, Reed added, including expansion for the Workforce Training Center.

This is a new concept for the college, he said. We're struggling to build a base.

The college staff tailors programs small and large, basic and sophisticated to meet immediate needs for both workers and businesses.

The college has been offering truck-driving courses starting on the first Monday of every month for more than two years.

It has provided a program for chemists at Imation and now provides space for classes offered by the local chapter of American Production and Inventory Control Society.

In cooperation with the Jackson County Dental Association, courses for working dental assistants are offered on nights and weekends.

The 18,000-square-foot building at the Dom offers two computer labs, several classrooms and five small seminar rooms available to businesses.

Many of the programs spawned at the center are conducted elsewhere or taken on the road.

The college provides instructional services for the Wood Center, which provides specialized equipment for companies fabricating wood products. Small companies that want to try out computer numeric control (CNC) manufacturing can contract production at the center. Students in the program can learn how to operate the equipment.

In training, they're working on real-world projects, says Dave Hall, field engineer with the Oregon Manufacturing Extension Program.

We're set up so if an employer comes in with a piece of equipment and needs workers trained, we can set up a program, said Jeanne Howell, center director.

RCC also is initiating more extensive programs in response to community needs.

One- and two-year construction technology programs are being developed by program coordinator Ralph Henderson, who says there's a strong demand for high-tech skills such as Computer Aided Design (CAD).

Those students will be able to work on the center's CAD-equipped computer lab in the evening; workers from GEC Alsthom's White City transformer plant will use the lab in the afternoon under another program.

As field engineer for the Oregon Manufacturing Extension Program, Hall works in concert with the center. He's part of a state program that offers smaller businesses plant engineering and manufacturing counsel.

He made the connection with GEC Alsthom and also with Darex Corp., an Ashland manufacturer of drill-sharpening equipment.

That company needed specialized training for CNC machine operators. The college met with company officials and workers, did some testing and prepared a program that will be conducted at the business.

We tried to match up an instructor with their corporate culture, West said. We sent two instructors to make presentations to the workers and they picked Mike Lemke.

All of the truck-driving graduates are offered jobs and 97 percent go straight to work.

The second question every student asks, says Howell, is, `are there jobs available to graduates?'

The college is not offering an electronics program because jobs for graduates aren't available in the area.

Alumaweld and other Rogue Valley boat-building companies sought training for their welders.

They told us people who come out of welding programs know how to bench-weld, but don't know how to do uphill welding, or welding over their heads when they lie on their backs, West said.

Alumaweld gives the college its scrap aluminum for training.

That saves the college money, and when we give it back, it weighs more and they can get more from salvage, West added.

Not all of the programs are technical. A basic skills lab offers assistance with GED high school degrees, English as a second language and basic math and English training.

Howell is developing a 60-hour class in retailing and customer service that will be taught in Jackson County by Rebecca Killmartin, manager of the Medford Eddie Bauer store.

Finding the right person is really important, Howell said. We're looking for people coming out of industry, people with recent industry experience.

Those instructors are a key to helping people adapt to potential jobs, center staffers say, and work ethic and protocols are a key.

We try to make training like a real workplace, West said. People will be expected to dress properly and come to class on time.

Another side of the training effort considers the skills shared by people who face the loss of their jobs and helps them prepare for new jobs.

Eagle Hardware and Garden wants workers who have experience in trades; workers facing layoffs at Burrill Lumber Co. may have some of those skills and just need retail training to qualify. The college is developing a class in computer repair and configuration in anticipation of the layoffs at Burrill and United Grocers.

Reed said the center needs to grow to be a sustainable part of the college. The college now serves just over 1,000 full-time-equivalent students in Jackson County. The college should count on serving two or three times that many students fairly soon, he said. At normal participation levels, RCC would have more than 3,700 in its new county. The college has about 2,000 students in Josephine County.

Financing limits the growth, although the center benefits from partnerships and cooperative ventures.

Much of what we're doing is self-sustaining, Reed said. It makes us real customer-centered.

RCC President Harvey Bennett has been advocating the development of a second Advanced Technology Center in the state, said John Lopez, local coordinator for the Oregon Advanced Technology Consortium. Like Hall, he's not part of RCC, but works closely with RCC in delivering technology.

There is one center, in Wilsonville, where companies can go see and try the latest technology, he said.

Southern Oregon employers afford the cost and time off the job to send a few people to the Portland-area facility, but would get far more use from a regional center, Hall added.

Rogue Community College electronics student Nathan Burrows takes a break in the courtyard outside the newly renovated VA Domiciliary campus and training center. - Photo by BOB PENNELL