From fabrication to aviation, technical education is on the rise

Clinton Child, owner/operator of Parkdale Metalworks, standing with a staircase rail he made for a home in the Gorge
“The local community is keeping me busy,” says Clinton Child, owner/operator of Parkdale Metalworks, standing with a staircase rail he made for a home in the Gorge. “I’m really grateful for that.”
Photo courtesy of Parkdale Metalworks.

Story by Drew Myron

With a careful eye, Clinton Child sizes up a handrail that will line a flight of stairs.

From his shop in Parkdale, he measures, calculates, designs, mocks, tacks, welds, sands, refines and, finally, installs. Metal fabrication is precise and painstaking work, and he is patient enough to make it work.

You may not know his name, but you’ve likely seen his work all around town: from seating at Solstice Pizza to conveyor belts at Hood River Cherry Co., deck rails on homes and repairs on agriculture equipment.

“The local community is keeping me busy,” says Clinton, who works seven days a week to keep up with demand. “I’m really grateful for that.”

Last year, when his wife, Shanna, was six months’ pregnant with their second child, the couple took a leap of faith and launched their own business, Parkdale Metalworks.

“I’ve always been building stuff,” says Clinton, the son of a carpenter. “Since I was little, we were always tinkering. It just came natural.”

When he was a student at Hood River Valley High School, Clinton’s natural talent was reinforced by an internship with the late Rodger Schock, an esteemed metal fabricator and owner of Schock Welding in Odell. Fortified with skills and experience, Clinton went onto launch a career in manufacturing.

In many ways, there is a need for more Clintons—and area leaders are working to make it happen.

Thanks to an influx of state and federal funding, Hood River Valley High School is beefing up its career technical education program. Columbia Gorge Community College is building a $14.6 million workforce skills center on its campus in The Dalles. The aim is to engage and equip students throughout the region with tangible skills that will fill high- demand, solid-wage jobs.

Yesteryear’s vocational-technical program is today’s expanded and refined career technical education. Instead of a single-focused woodworking class or auto mechanics course, CTE works to prepare high school students for next-step education that includes internships, industry partnerships and practical links between technical fields and the traditional academic subjects of history, science and math.

Hood River Valley High School offers five CTE programs with courses in agricultural science and technology, mechanics/ construction, power and technology, welding and fabrication, and carpentry.

The school has partnered with local manufacturers, such as Cardinal Glass and Insitu, to provide practical links to professional careers.

“We’re excited to share with students opportunities right here in their backyard,” says Kate Wurster, career technical education program coordinator at the high school. “It’s important to expose students to options.”

Clinton Childs working on a welding project in a shop
Clinton gained fabrication finesse through an apprenticeship and on-the-job experience. Schools in the area are working to increase technical education programs as a means to engage and equip students with tangible skills that will fill high-demand, solid-wage jobs.
Photo by Drew Myron

On the Columbia Gorge Community College campus in The Dalles, technical education is reaching a new high. In June, crews will break ground for the Treaty Oak Regional Skills Center, an expansive facility designed to provide students with hands-on training in a host of technical professions, including construction trades, metals fabrication and aviation maintenance.

The $14.6 million project includes student housing and is funded by the Oregon Legislature, with additional funds from the city of The Dalles, Wasco County and Port of The Dalles. The center is scheduled to open next summer.

The college’s renewable energy technology has expanded into electro-mechanical technology—a degreed program that prepares students to work with automated electronic technologies in a variety of industries, including renewable energy, advanced manufacturing, unmanned aircraft systems and engineering.

Along with manufacturing and welding, construction trades is a new program that introduces the fundamentals of house building—including wiring and plumbing—with apprenticeship opportunities.

Plans are in the works for an aviation technology program.

This type of career education is critical, says Robert Clark, who teaches at Columbia Gorge Community College.

“Manufacturing is the No. 4 industry in the greater Central Oregon region,” he says. “There is currently great need for people to go into the field. Finding midlevel workers has always been hard as they cluster toward the top—engineering—and the bottom—laborers. We see lots of workers produced that have skills, but not the ability to fill the role of the jobs on the market.

“Many of the industry folks that I have talked with have stated that they don’t have too much problem finding someone who can operate a welder, or that they feel confident that they can train a welder, but that they cannot find or do not have the time to train a worker to fabricate, fit up parts, work the types of manufacturing equipment they are using or have the integrated math skills needed to complete the tasks. To me, that is where the skills gap is currently.”

With his new business, Clinton is filling the gap and working hard to keep up with demand.

“Actually,” he says, “I’ve been busier than I thought I’d be.”

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