Students take tours for National Manufacturing Day
Students across the Portland area got a taste Friday of what it's like to work in the manufacturing sector.
On the Westside, National Manufacturing Day has special importance. Washington County's economy is driven in large part by the high-tech industry, which ranges from multinational giants like Intel to smaller local companies like Vernier Software and Technology.
National Manufacturing Day is designed to expand knowledge about high-skilled, high-paying jobs in manufacturing and the industry's economic impact on Oregon.
To celebrate National Manufacturing Day, the Oregon Manufacturing Extension Partnership teamed up with various education, workforce and manufacturing stakeholders throughout Oregon to host free educational events, tours and job fairs for hundreds of high school students to learn about careers in manufacturing.
Students — but perhaps not enough of them — rave over Vernier
In Beaverton, two local high schools bussed selected students to Vernier, 13979 S.W. Millikan Way, to showcase the benefits of the company and explore potential careers.
About 50 students from Southridge High School jumped at the opportunity and signed up. Twelve were selected to attend, according to Renee Way, Southridge college career specialist. Fifteen more came from Aloha High School.
The students were joined on the tour by Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici, whose congressional district includes all of Washington County.
"There are real jobs, good jobs not only in Oregon, but right here in Beaverton," Bonamici said. "Vernier is recognized for being a great place to work."
Vernier is an educational software and equipment company based in Beaverton that employs about 115 people.
Vernier produces sensors and graphing software for use in science education. It was one of the first companies to popularize the use of computers and sensor technology, sometimes known as probeware, during laboratory experiments.
Hugo Serrano, a senior at Aloha High School, said he thought Vernier was really cool.
"I like seeing how things work," Serrano said. "This is real-world application. I can mix-and-match ideas to create and find solutions."
Serrano plans on becoming an electrician after graduation.
Lisa Brennan, college and career counselor at Aloha High, said, "I work with a lot of great kids. I want to inspire them to explore and leave all their doors and options open."
The 15 who came from Aloha High were originally supposed to be part of a larger group. The school had planned to send up to 20 students, but fewer than that signed up, according to Brennan. She said in the four years that Aloha High has been participating in Manufacturing Day events, there have never before been empty spots.
"We are analyzing why this happened and what we will do differently next year," Brennan said.
From the Aloha group, there were no girls in attendance. Brennan said one had signed up but ultimately decided she didn't want to miss a test at school that day.
As Brennan watched the students in attendance clearly in awe during the tour of Vernier, exploring the hands-on exhibits and even indulging in the opportunity to use the firehouse twisting slide, she expressed her disappointment that more students didn't attend.
"The kids just don't know what's out there for them," she said. "This is obviously a great company to work for. Every person I've asked here said this is the best company they've ever worked for and have no intention of ever leaving."
Bonamici is one of the leading proponents in Congress of STEAM education, encompassing the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. She advocates STEAM as a way of getting students interested in and beginning to train them for jobs at companies like Vernier.
"Local manufacturing provides our communities with living-wage jobs, innovative technology and high-quality products," Bonamici said. "Manufacturing Day is a great opportunity to recognize the importance of manufacturing to Oregon's economy and to Oregon's working families."
Just north of Beaverton, another group of students from Sunset High School went down the road to Tosoh Quartz, 14380 N.W. Science Park Drive.
At Tosoh Quartz's Building 3 on Northwest Science Park Drive, Sunset High students watched how giant cylinders of quartz glass were cut, ground and polished into circles which are used in chip making. (The glass is pure and resists high temperatures, and is a good surface for etching microprocessor circuits with acids and high-pressure gasses.)
The building was a converted warehouse, with swamp coolers to keep the temperatures down, dust bunnies clinging to the walls, and few creature comforts beyond water jugs and ear plugs to block out the constant whining of the motors. A finished, perfectly polished ring of glass is worth about $1,500.
Entry-level jobs in roughing — where new recruits can do the least damage — pay around $14 an hour. With experience, workers move down the line to more skilled tasks where they might eventually make closer to $25 per hour, according to Clyde Loftis, director of manufacturing at Tosoh Quartz.
Turnover is mixed. On one hand, 18 percent of the staff have been there over 20 years. On the other hand, 20 percent have been there less than one year.
The students took in the tool crib — where computer numeric control machines are fixed and their bits are sharpened — and the packing area, where the quartz "windows" are stacked on blue foam inside blue boxes for transportation.
Lam Research official: 'We have an insatiable demand for good people'
Tours like the ones at Tosoh Quartz and Vernier might seem overwhelming to teenagers scrambling to figure out what they want to do with the rest of their lives, while at the same time enjoying the twilight years of that adolescent period before adulthood.
But for local companies, recruiting the employees of the future is a real need, officials say.
At Lam Research in Tualatin, 11361 S.W. Leveton Drive, where the "kickoff" event for National Manufacturing Day in the Portland area was held Friday morning, managing director Mike Snell said the company is desperate to find talented students and experience workers to take on both entry level and highly skilled work.
"Across most industrial economies, there's a shortage of skilled people in the STEM fields, including welders, electricians, engineers, electrical technicians, everything in short supply," said Snell. "The technical needs are advancing but less people are entering the field."
Manufacturing is still a big part of the Westside economy.
"People believe manufacturing is gone, which is mistaken. We've had a significant increase in productivity but we're still hiring," Snell said. "We've added more than 700 people to manufacturing at this site, and it's similar with suppliers that are local. There's a lot of work available. Everyone's struggling to hire."
Lam Research makes the tools that are used by companies like Intel to make computer chips, such as memory and central processors.
Snell summarized the skill shortage: "People have lost touch with the opportunities of manufacturing. They think of an assembly line or foundry. Now there's more precision required, all of our work is inside a clean room. People don't have a concept of what that's like unless they come and see it. Teachers can't know about every vocation. So this event is to help tell that story, how they can make a good career in STEM-related fields. We hire at every level, from high school to Ph.D. We have an insatiable demand for good people."
Friday's student tours were among several across the Portland-Vancouver region. Similar events were held at Oregon Aero in Scappoose, Schoolhouse Electric & Supply Co. in Northwest Portland, and Danner Boots near Portland International Airport.
At Oregon Aero, 34020 Sky Way Drive, many of the students who got a first-hand look at the company's processes — it engineers and cuts soft foam for use in aircraft, such as airplane seats — are headed toward career paths in engineering and manufacturing. They attend Benson Polytechnic High School, one of just a few tech-oriented schools in the Portland area. (The School of Science & Technology, a magnet program in Beaverton, is another.)
Sara Jones is the only girl in her senior manufacturing program. She said her grandfather attended Benson Polytechnic "back when it was still an all-boys school," and her uncle also attended.
"I want to get more into welding," Jones said. "Last year I had tendinitis in my shoulder cuff, so I actually learned how to weld with my left hand."
Jones said she chose Benson because she wanted to gain a skillset while earning her high school diploma.
"I wanted to get into something I could take into my job, but also the real world," she explained.