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Electricians Light New Career Paths for OR Workers

December 15, 2011

PORTLAND, Ore. - As Oregon's unemployment rate inches lower, one factor might be the new crop of construction workers coming out of free training programs hosted by union electricians.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) offers two types of training in the Portland area, both aimed at those who might not otherwise have been accepted into rigorous union apprentice programs. One is an intensive, five-day workshop to be material handlers on construction sites. Instructor Bridget Quinn says it's a good feeling to watch the students succeed.

"It's really rewarding to work with somebody who's got their eyes focused on something that they want to achieve - somebody who's motivated and really putting all of their effort in, to achieve a way of life and a career, and benefits - something that's really going to be valuable to them."

IBEW also partners with a social-service group called Constructing Hope to give women and members of minority groups an in-depth look at the trades in a nine-week course. Board member Keith Edwards says people who have been released from prison also are welcome.

"They've paid their debt to society, but they had a hard time coming out and trying to find employment. This is an avenue for them, to help them transition into a workforce environment, help them have confidence so that they can get a job and go back to work and be productive citizens."

The training also includes resume writing and job-interview skills. The next Constructing Hope course starts in February and is free of charge.

When Steven Steele of Portland finished his material handlers' course, he liked it so much he now volunteers in the Constructing Hope classes, helping students brush up on computer skills.

"The class that I just was a part of, we were a very strong class. All of us were there every day - and we stayed in touch, and we even helped transport each other to and from the facility if we needed it."

In the five-day workshop, participants are certified in first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), operating forklifts and special Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) safety training. The material-handler training is free, and the next sessions will be held in the spring.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR