Many immigrants have years of work experience. ‘Upskilling’ programs are helping them use that knowledge.

Thursday, October 25, 2018
Many immigrants have years of work experience. ‘Upskilling’ programs are helping them use that knowledge.

For six months, Jorge Balcazar’s classroom has been a 60-acre shipyard on Swan Island, just a few miles from downtown Portland, Oregon.

The 47-year-old was in a maritime welding program where he and 10 classmates were learning to repair and maintain vessels.

One September day, Balcazar meticulously sliced steel through a track burner machine, cutting one sheet into five smaller pieces. He was working on a final project.

“It wasn’t hard for me,” he says about the class after his finals are over. “For other students it was hard, but not for me.”

That’s because Balcazar has more than a decade’s worth of welding experience. He learned the craft in 2007, while working for a company that manufactured dredging equipment in Portland. But when that company moved its operations to Europe in 2017, Balcazar decided to go back to school. He wanted to learn other welding techniques and get certified in federal workplace safety standards, forklift driving and CPR.

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