U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer notes need for trades workers in Port Angeles tour
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Steve Kroll, left, general manager of Washington operations for Interfor Pacific, shows Congressman Derek Kilmer the company’s operation west of Port Angeles. — Arwyn Rice/Peninsula Daily News

By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT ANGELES — One of the biggest challenges employers have today is finding qualified employees for technical and trades work, U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer told those at a Port Angeles Business Association breakfast meeting Tuesday.

He said he saw an example of that challenge while touring the Interfor Pacific sawmill west of Port Angeles later that day.

Steve Kroll, general manager of Interfor’s Washington operations, said the sawmill has had four positions for millwright open for six or eight months.

“We aren’t even getting applications for the positions,” he said.

Kroll told Kilmer, who represents the 6th Congressional District, that the mill is experiencing a national problem.

There is a shortage of millwrights nationwide as many retire or move into the oil industry, and technical and trade schools aren’t producing new millwrights to take their place, Kroll said.

“The whole country is struggling,” he told Kilmer, whose district includes the North Olympic Peninsula.

R.J. Chatters, maintenance supervisor for the Port Angeles mill, said changes to the education system in the U.S. are discouraging students from getting into the trades.

“It’s pushing our kids toward four-year degrees. Lots of kids want to take [the trades] path, but there are no opportunities,” Chatters said.

The lack of students in training for technology and the trades was part of Kilmer’s message at Tuesday morning’s breakfast meeting.

Kilmer, a Gig Harbor Democrat who is a native of Port Angeles, had said that 1.4 million new computer science jobs will open in the next decade.

Technology schools aren’t turning out enough to meet the need, and among those who are trained, there are few women or ethnic minorities, he added.

“Some of my former classmates from Port Angeles High School who went into the trades are getting good pay to support their families,” Kilmer said.

“Vocational training is valuable to maintain and enhance education.”

Kilmer also told the business association group that he has joined the Bipartisan Working Group, an informal group of Democrats and Republicans in Congress who meet Wednesday mornings to find common ground between the parties.

He hopes the group will find a way around congressional partisanship, adding that he has talked with politicians on both sides of the aisle who tell him their constituents sent them to Washington, D.C., to work against the other party, not as a team.

The Bipartisan Working Group has helped, according to Kilmer.

He said he is working with Congressman Frank Wolf, a Virginia Republican, to craft a bill that will create forgivable loans for businesses willing to locate a new plant or business in rural regions like the North Olympic Peninsula.

“It can bring jobs back from overseas, bring the jobs here and reduce unemployment,” Kilmer said.

One key for attracting business to rural areas such as the Peninsula is to improve communications technology, he said.

The Olympic Peninsula is in the bottom one-fifth for the nation when it comes to speed and access to broadband communications, Kilmer said.

“We are in one of the areas where we need it most,” he said.


Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at arwyn.rice@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: June 03. 2014 7:27PM
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