The morning dawned dark and drizzly, but inside the Oregon Convention Center the mood was anything but dreary.
Facing a roomful of nearly 500 educators, business leaders and high school students, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler struck an encouraging tone in a keynote speech at the annual PWA Expo Breakfast that emphasized the importance of education and skills training.
The mayor told students that while Portland faces equity challenges like any other U.S. city, a shortage of jobs is not among them. Oregon’s largest city is projected to grow by about 200,000 people within 20 years, and higher-wage jobs are expected to surge as well, he said. The question is whether employers will hire locally or import qualified workers from out of state.
“The future we want is for you to have that education, to have those skills…to be able to qualify for those higher-wage jobs,” Wheeler said, addressing Portland high school students gathered in advance of the NW Youth Careers Expo.
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The mayor commended the Portland Workforce Alliance and its employer partners for providing young people with ways to learn more about the variety of potential careers and the skills, training and education needed to pursue those pathways.
The March 14th breakfast served as the kickoff to the 13th annual Expo, an event that drew more than 6,000 students from across Oregon and SW Washington to meet with 170 exhibitors representing tech, healthcare, construction management and other vibrant sectors of the local economy.
Wheeler wasn’t alone in offering encouragement.
Three high school students – Cecelia Gallegos from Roosevelt, Jaden Salama from Wilson and Marqurite Bell from Benson Tech – charmed and inspired the room with personal testimonies to the value of career learning experiences they’ve received through PWA’s employer partners.
Two respected educators, Parkrose School District Superintendent Karen Gray and Grant High School Principal Carol Campbell, stressed the importance of adding Career Technical Education courses to high school offerings in order to tap the potential of every student.
And famed Nike shoe designer Tinker Hatfield urged students to follow the example of legendary NBA star Michael Jordan in getting involved and staying involved over the long haul as a friend and mentor to the less fortunate.
He recalled being with Jordan when the Chicago Bulls star took a circuitous route to a championship playoff game to visit a group of young men he’d taken under his wing when they were children living in a public housing project near the arena. Jordan visited with the young men before every home game during his 14-year career in Chicago, Hatfield said.
“I’ve been working with famous athletes and celebrities for many, many years and I have yet to run into one that was as dedicated to being a mentor and helping somebody out and doing it time after time after time,” Hatfield said. “Because in the end, it’s not a one-time deal, it’s not a ten-time deal. It’s a lifetime deal to help people for as long as you possibly can.”