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Clark Goes with Transportation Flow

by Julia Anderson, Columbian staff writer
The Columbian, September 2, 2004

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., got a firsthand look Wednesday at how Clark College plans to get rail, truck and marine cargo moving faster around Southwest Washington and the Northwest.

Murray, the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate's Employment, Safety and Training Subcommittee, learned that the college, along with state and local employment officials, is working to create an Advanced Center for Transportation Technologies on its Vancouver campus. The center would provide critical recruitment and training services to employers seeking workers in such areas as automotive repair, supply chain management, airport security, shipping, railroad logistics and trucking.

According to Lisa Nisenfeld, executive director of the state's Workforce Development Council of Southwest Washington, local employer surveys show there is a demand here for up to 500 new workers across several transportation-related industries. The jobs pay an annual average wage of $47,000, well above the overall Clark County average of $38,000.

As a regional transportation hub, Vancouver with its port, a Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway yard and Interstate 5 as well as Portland International Airport across the Columbia River is a natural location for such training, said officials.

In addition, getting cargo from one place to another is a growing concern for companies struggling with road and rail congestion and a shortage of qualified workers for everything from truck driving to running trains.

The problem has worsened in the past few years, said Lisa Pletcher, new dean of the college's Workforce Development & Education program.

"According to a recent study on freight mobility in the Portland-Vancouver area, only 51 percent of freight and cargo deliveries in the region are arriving on time," she said. "It's becoming a job-retention issue for some companies who say they can't continue to operate here unless things improve," she said.

Pletcher, who joined the college in July from Tacoma, was hired to work directly with the Columbia River Economic Development Council, state Employment Department officials and employers to get people into transportation sector jobs. She said some of the curriculum could be available as early as fall 2005.

Automotive technology

On Wednesday, Clark College President Wayne Branch and a cadre of staff and state officials escorted Murray through the college's automotive technology training facilities, where instructors showed off big trucks on hoists, electronic testing equipment and a giant engine "washing machine."

Murray learned that the automotive course, which normally takes two years to complete, is now also offered through a "fast-track" program that takes just 16 to 18 months.

Integrating curriculum

Branch told Murray the challenge in developing the transportation technologies center will be in integrating curriculum and training across several industries.

"We're going to have to move some dollars around to make it happen," Branch said. It will also take support from business and industry as well as state and federal funding, he said.

That's where Murray said her committee work might come in.

"We want to make sure at the federal level that there's as much flexibility as possible in how funding is allocated," she said. "We also want to reduce the paperwork for accessing those funds. It's important to be able to bring back success stories like this one, which help get language into appropriations bills to fund programs."

Bart Phillips, president of the economic development council, said he applauded the college's effort.

"They've identified an industry where there's a growing need for job training," Phillips said. "Now they've got to figure out the details to make sure we've got the right (training) products to fit both employers' and students' needs. There are two sets of customers here."

Pletcher said the next steps for the college include:

Branch said the ultimate goal is that area "employers see the college as not only capable of worker retraining, but entrust the college to meet their needs through partnerships. The transportation sector is exemplary of what we can do. We see the same needs in health care and several other sectors."

Did you know?

Julia Anderson, Columbian staff writer
Clark Goes with Transportation Flow
The Columbian, September 2, 2004

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