Hundreds of local manufacturing and wood products industry jobs have vanished in the current recession, and nobody knows if they’re ever coming back.
DELICATE WORK: Students Matthew Collins (right) and Jennifer Dockweiler practice the fine art of splicing fiber optic cable. Looking on are classmates Matt Hall (left) and Ady Ayatullah. The Observer/BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH
For many dislocated workers, the answer to the problem of unemployment lies in learning something new. A group of about 20 people had a chance to do just that recently when Training and Employment Consortium hosted a hands-on class in fiber optic technology.
Armed with new knowledge — and a certificate of completion — the students have a shot at getting a job in a high-growth, high-demand industry, said Lynn Trice, TEC’s workforce development supervisor.“They’re getting skills they can use. This training will help them get their foot in the door,” Trice said.
Training and Employment Consortium is a non-profit organization providing career training and job placement services to adults, youth and seniors in Union, Wallowa, Baker, Grant, Harney and Malheur counties.
TEC works with community, state and federal partners to provide education, employment and personal development opportunities to participants and clients.
At present, the agency is handling an influx of people laid off due to the recession. Fortunately, it has received funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment stimulus bill, and also National Emergency Act grants.
Money from those sources made the fiber optics class possible. There are more funds available for other training opportunities as well, Trice said.
But a comprehensive class held from start to finish at a local site is not the norm. More often, TEC clients looking to learn new trades are forced to travel.
The chance to bring the fiber optics class to La Grande was too exciting to pass up, said TEC Executive Director Teri Simonis.
“We don’t get a chance to put on local training like this very often,” she said.
Light Brigade, a Tukwila, Wash., company that teaches people how to design, install, test and maintain fiber optic networks, offers a five-day course in the basics.
Last week, TEC opened a classroom in its building at 1916 Island Ave. Light Brigade moved in, bringing 10 bins of installation and test equipment for the hands-on portion of the course.
Students did classroom work the first two days. Then, in the practical segment, they set up a simulated 20-kilometer fiber optic network.
They worked at a hectic pace, instructor Stuart Overton said.
“This has been an excellent class. I can’t get them to take a break,” he said.
Fiber optics is the communication technology that uses light to transmit data through glass or plastic fibers. Highly efficient and cost effective, it has become the transmission mode of choice for telephone and cable television companies.
Huge volumes of voice, video and print data move over the wires literally at the speed of light. Fiber optics is rendering previous transmission modes obsolete, according to Overton.
“Theoretically, you could get 50 million or more telephone calls going over a fiber,” Overton said.
Sounds complicated. But in Light Brigade’s “Fiber Optics 1-2-3” class, students learn the basics of designing, installing, testing and maintaining fiber optic networks — all in five days.
Not only that, those who complete the course get to test for their International Electronics Technicians Association certificate.
That’s a piece of paper that can open a door into an industry with real job potential, said Gabe Renville of Light Brigade.
“This is a technology that’s going to be around a long time, and it’s one where there’s not enough skilled technicians,” he said.
Chris Giese was one of many workers who lost their jobs last March when Fleetwood Enterprises closed its trailer manufacturing plant near Island City .
She said she thinks the fiber optic class may help her get back on track. She likes work that challenges both her mind and manual skills.
“My caseworker (at TEC) suggested this might be the way to go because I’m a hands-on person,” Giese said. “The plan is to try and get a job.”
Matthew Collins, another former Fleetwood employee, said the class helped him learn about a trade he’s been interested in for a long time.
“I worked for a telephone company before, and this is a field I’ve always wanted to get into,” he said.
Collins said he has definite plans to put his training to use in the real world.
“I’m hoping so. I’ve got a few outlets to send resumes to,” he said.
TEC’s efforts to help people laid off because of the recession will continue as long as funds hold out, Simonis said.
She said that National Emergency grants are targeted specifically for training or re-training workers laid off from Fleetwood and Boise Cascade.
But she stressed there is other money available to help other people who are thrown out of work through no fault of their own.
“The big layoffs trickle down into the community. We do have funds to help those who have lost jobs at the smaller companies,” she said.
For information about TEC training opportunities, call 963-7942.