Special Issues: Back to School in a Tough Economy
By Rachael McDonald
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When you lose your job it can feel like your life is over. But for some, losing a job is an opportunity to do something different-- go back to school and gain new skills. As part of KLCC’s Special Issues Series on Education, Rachael McDonald profiles two people who are back at school after being laid off.
In a basement room at Lane Community College, Brandon Fox Kilgore types code on his laptop computer. Instructor Dan Carrier looks over his shoulder answering questions and offering advice.
Kilgore is building a website for a Eugene business. He says he’s been doing free computer work for friends while he’s in school.
Kilgore: “We’re building websites for free and I’ve been doing a little technical consulting for people in their homes and things like that for free, just so I can build up a repertoire.”
Kilgore’s goal is to start his own computer consulting business.
Kilgore: “I’d really like to help people with their data management. It’s really overlooked how valuable data is to a company. You can go from being a vital productive company to being completely stopped in one day if your hard drive crashes.”
A little over a year ago this 31 year old was working at the Hynix computer chip plant in west Eugene. He had worked his way up from an entry – level position to manager of his own department, which he created. But, then the company shut down its Eugene plant, laying off roughly one thousand people. Brandon Kilgore was at a crossroads.
Kilgore: “When Hynix closed I was in total and utter shock.”
Kilgore and other Hynix workers qualified for Federal Trade Act Assistance, which pays for tuition and books while he goes to Lane. Kilgore says one of the requirements to get the money was to go into a field with potential for future jobs.
Kilgore: “There’s so much work to be done in the IT field. It’s actually really amazing how few people are out there who know what they’re doing. So I think that once we get going there’s going to be a lot of work on our hands.”
Kilgore will finish school in June. He’s hoping to have his business up and running before that.
Kilgore: “That’s one of the things that LCC’s got going for it is that there’s a lot of industry people here who know their way around and can take us from book learning, which is great, to learning specifically what’s being used in the real world.”
In the “Workforce Lane” office on campus, Dawn de Wolf says part of the goal here is to get students real-life job skills. She says people like Kilgore, who’ve been laid off, are ready to get back to work.
DeWolf: “Returning adults who have been in the workforce are really focused and very motivated. Want to get what they can as quickly as they can so they can get back into the workforce.”
DeWolf’s office offers job search tools and resume help. She says people can even apply for unemployment here.
DeWolf: “We also try to broaden their horizons a little bit and look at some career exploration, possibility of looking toward training that might help them get better jobs that pay better salaries and prepare them for openings in the future.”
The office gears people toward jobs that have potential for growth, careers that are going to need more skilled people.
Kevin Barrett came here after losing his job at Monaco. The R-V maker closed its plant in Coburg last March laying off more than 13 hundred people. Barrett was already taking classes at Lane, hoping to move up at Monaco.
Barrett: “And at that point decided I can either continue in the field that I’m in which obviously wasn’t looking too good (laughs) or change courses and pursue an associate’s degree.”
Barrett had enrolled in a four year college in California just out of high school in 1990. But he never finished. So this is an opportunity. Once he gets his AA he plans to stay at Lane and study energy management. And at the same time enroll at the University of Oregon in environmental science. His ultimate goal is to work in the renewable energy field. He’s interested in working on wave energy generation projects on the coast. He says going back to school isn’t easy.
Barrett:”The one thing that I had kept putting off for so long when I started college so long ago was the math and sciences. Especially math. Because I hadn’t taken a math course since I believe my freshman year in high school.”
Barrett was able to get help paying for school.
Barrett: “Because I was a displaced worker, there are programs through the county here through Worksource Lane that give scholarships for displaced workers and low-income. It’s called the Workforce Investment Act scholarship.”
More money will be coming to the nation’s community colleges if President Obama’s American Graduation Initiative receives Congressional approval. The plan would invest 12 billion dollars in Community Colleges. LCC president Mary Splide chairs the American Association of Community Colleges. She’s been in Washington DC talking with Education Secretary Arne Duncan helping to craft the legislation.
Spilde says Community Colleges play an important role in getting the economy back on track.
Spilde: “Certainly, in this economic downturn we’re seeing many many people return to community college and Lane in particular with a 21 percent increase in credit students. And I think that’s just an indication that people recognize that most of the jobs now require something beyond high school.”
Lane Community College isn’t the only one. Linn Benton in Corvallis is re-training laid off workers from steel mills and other industries. Umpqua and Central Oregon Community Colleges and other area schools offer the same services. Spilde says Community Colleges can make a region more attractive for potential employers.
Spilde: “I think what we do is make sure that when employers are thinking about investing whether it’s new green energy, health care, wherever the family wage jobs are I think one of the things they look for is an educated and trained work force. And I think that’s what community colleges places like Lane provide for local communities and for local regions. And it’s a very important part of our mission.”
[Outside old Hynix site]
The empty Hynix plant may play a role in the new economy. Here more than a year ago Brandon Kilgore and one thousand others were laid off from the computer chip plant. Now another South Korean company is looking at the site for a solar cell manufacturing plant. Negotiations are underway and everyone is crossing their fingers. Many former Hynix workers are hoping to find a job at the new plant. LCC is now offering a solar manufacturing training program.
But Brandon Kilgore isn’t interested in going back to this site in West Eugene. He’s excited about building his own business. He and his wife had to put some dreams on hold when he got laid off from Hynix. They were hoping to buy a house. He feels confident, eventually they’ll get there.
Kilgore: “When I actually get this business going I don’t expect to be doing poorly. I expect to be doing very well. Not just for myself but for the people around me and hopefully that will equal a house.”
Kilgore says the experience of losing his job taught him a lot. He wants to work less—no more 50, 60 hour weeks. He says having time off gave him a chance to visit family, and spend more time with his wife and cat. Those things are worth more to him than a big paycheck. Kilgore is among 200 former Hynix workers who enrolled at LCC. He says when everyone gets out of school, the Eugene area will benefit.
Kilgore: “On the turnaround you know, I guess we’ve got 2 ½ more terms for most of the people that got into school around when I did. I think it’s going to be amazing how much energy we’re going to be bringing back to the community from LCC and whatever other technical schools they’ve been going to here in town. I’m really excited to see that. It will be a new growth.”
For KLCC news, I’m Rachael McDonald.
Visit SPECIAL ISSUES: EDUCATION
for photos and more information.