Program aims to make garbage and recycling trucking jobs more accessible to women and people of color

Richard Holmes started his job with Portland Disposal and Recycling after finishing a new job training program aimed at recruiting more women and people of color to drive garbage and recycling trucks.

Richard Holmes / Richard Holmes

Portland garbage and recycling haulers have been dealing with a shortage of drivers, even before the pandemic. Now, a new program aims to recruit and train women and people of color for these jobs, with the hopes of both filling vacancies and diversifying the workforce. We hear from Richard Holmes, a newly hired driver for Portland Disposal and Recycling, who was in the first cohort to complete the program, and Patrick Gihring, chief program officer at Worksystems, who helped design the curriculum.

This transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.

Dave Miller: From the Gert Boyle studio at OPB, this is Think Out Loud. I’m Dave Miller. Portland garbage and recycling haulers have been dealing with a shortage of drivers. Now a new program aims to recruit and train women and people of color for these jobs. The hope is to both fill vacancies and diversify the workforce. Richard Holmes is in the first group of new hires. He recently started as a Driver for Portland Disposal and Recycling. He started just three days ago. He joins us now along with Patrick Gihring, the Chief Program Officer at Work Systems, that’s a nonprofit that helped design the curriculum. Welcome to you both.

Richard Holmes / Patrick Gihring: Thank you, Good afternoon.

Miller: Richard Holmes, First, as I mentioned, you’re just three days into your new job. How’s it going?

Holmes: It’s wonderful, man. The people here at Portland Disposal are really helpful. They want to see you succeed. They set me up with a great trainer, Marcus Burr and he’s fabulous. I mean everybody, from the people that hired me to the people I’m working with, I mean it’s great.

Miller: Have you started driving routes yet?

Holmes: Yeah, I’m working with trainer Marcus Burr and we’re working his route right now, so I’m learning routes and how he does his routes. I’m also learning the mechanical arm that picks up and places back the garbage containers. I drove a little bit today, a little bit yesterday so little by little, I’m driving more and more.

Miller: Shadowing, and then pretty soon you’ll be on your own. Why did you want to take part in this program? This is the first time that Work Systems has done this particular kind of training.

Holmes: Actually, I’ve wanted to drive a garbage truck since I was a child, my whole life, but I’ve never had the opportunity to get the training. It’s either I didn’t have the money for it or the time wasn’t right. When this opportunity came along I was just released from prison, so my options of finding work, of making a livable wage, were pretty slim. I’m with a program called Flip the Script and it’s through Central City Concern, and they actually work hand in hand with Work Source Oregon and other entities. I was introduced to this program through them and took advantage of it.

Miller: My understanding is it could cost something like $6,000 to go through this training and to get the Commercial Driver’s License that you need to do this job. Did you have $6,000 to spend to get a job like this?

Holmes: No, I didn’t. Actually it’s between six to ten thousand, depending on where you go.

Miller: Between six and ten thousand?

Holmes: Yeah. Depending on where you go, it can be pretty pricey.

Miller: Patrick Gihring, this gets us to you. How did Work Systems decide that helping people in the Portland area get into careers in Garbage and Recycling Hauling, that it fit into your mission?

Gihring: Well, we’ve been working for several years on just regular CDL for people in our programs, we’ve got a lot of community based partners like Central City Concern that Richard mentioned, that are serving people across the community, helping them figure out a career. Truck driving was just really good. You can quickly learn how to do it. It’s a low barrier to entry, and tend to pay really good. Even during the recession, there were a lot of jobs available in truck driving. So we were doing general truck driving with Interstate Trucking Academy and others and getting good results. And then we were connected to Portland Haulers’ Association and that’s a group of 10 Waste and Recycling Hauling Companies that are franchisees of the city of Portland and they were very interested in diversifying their workforces and they were connected to me by Johnell Bell, he’s someone I worked with in the past and does Diversity Consulting work. So we all got connected, and this isn’t just regular CDL training, this is training for an industry. So you do need a CDL, but you’re actually doing a lot more than just regular CDL Driving, like long haul driving. So the careers are local. That’s one difference. You’re not gonna be traveling for long durations out of state. It’s very stable. You know these jobs come with benefits, and they pay really well. You know the salaries are in the range of $50-$80,000. So there are many opportunities locally and this made a huge amount of sense for us to figure out a way to work together to get folks that are in our programs that are across the community, folks like Richard being served across the community, and create an option for folks to be trained up and be qualified. So the way it works is that the haulers, the 10 member companies that we’re working with, they come and look at the graduates, they helped us design the curriculum, but they look at the graduates as the diverse workforce that they can hire. So upon graduation they’ve got qualified folks. They can fill their fleets.

Miller: And they helped actually either design or run the training as well, so they can be sure that the potential hires actually could do the jobs?

Gihring: Yeah, exactly. It was a collaboration but we don’t have industry knowledge of Waste and Recycling driving but we work with them. It’s actually because they’re so busy. I mean these are full time companies focused on Waste and Recycle Removal. We just worked with them over the course of a year to understand what was needed and from start to finish. There are some elements upfront, like health and fitness tests, like drug testing, like the kind of driving record you need that are just prerequisite for being in the industry and getting a CDL. So we wanted to be recruiting the right people, meaning folks that could actually be hired into the jobs. And then we went through a lot of the industry specific content. We were working with the haulers to get the information about what kind of competencies, what kind of skills would be needed. So the folks that went through the program, and this is a three month program, would have been trained, qualified, have certifications and be ready for hire. Stuff like, the CDL is a part of it, and I think the cost being cited of six to ten thousand would be for a CDL, but this is more than a CDL. There’s stuff like route reading, there’s a lot of safety content to the curriculum, the hydraulic systems. There’s a truck that drives on the right side, steering wheel, Richard, I don’t know if you’ve got one of those. They’re different aspects that are not just regular CDL that come from the industry. And we even had stuff like guest speakers from the Haulers’ Associations come out to talk about what the jobs are, what the industry is like, what the work is like, the conditions that make sure folks know, and even do ride-alongs so that they could travel, you know they could go with a hauler to see what a day is like. So all of that was built into a curriculum with the goal that we start to finish. We have great recruitment, we’d have good training that would well prepare people to be Haulers, including the CDL. And then we’d have, on the other side, these committed employers that really want to diversify and hire for their fleet workforces so that we have good uptake and hiring from the trained group of people.

Miller: Richard Holmes. I’m always fascinated when I talk to somebody who was actually able to achieve a childhood dream. You said you wanted to be a Garbage Truck Driver when you were a kid, and now you’re well on your way. I mean you’re shadowing someone, this is, this is your job now, Is it what you hoped it would be?

Holmes: Yeah, I mean that and even more. It’s funny how life works. It comes full circle, you know. It took a lot to get to this point. I’ve had a lot of support. I’ve had support from like Dave Riley, he’s head of the PTP, the Prison Transition Program, my Parole Officer Molly Seel. There’s a lot of people that supported me through this, that helped me get to this point, and so just my first day getting behind the wheel officially and driving, I had all of that positive energy and all that help, all of that support, behind me, so it just made it that much sweeter.

Miller: What do you think it’s going to take for you to thrive in this job and to keep it and to move up?

Holmes: Always be willing to learn something new, just don’t get complacent, always stay motivated, no matter what. Just see every situation as an opportunity to learn.

Miller: Patrick Gihring, you mentioned all of the hauler specific training, I mean first is Commercial Driver’s License, but then, you know, driving on the right side of the car or using the hydraulic or mechanical arm or all those things, do you also find whether it’s for this particular job or others that you have to teach, you know, skills that are more about having a job or having a boss, more basic skills about being in the workforce.

Gihring: Yeah, there’s definitely a soft skills training aspect to it also. So there’s that, and just work site conditions. If you’re training for construction, I’ll take a different example. Often it’s outside, often it starts very early in the morning. That’s just a different thing than a lot of people’s prior work. So building that kind of factor into the training itself and making sure it’s a good match for people is really important. From what it sounded like, it really was great to go to the graduation. Richard is from the very first cohort that we did and it was just great to see everyone in person; we’ve been Zoom calling the whole time, to hear their stories, but you could tell there was a huge amount of camaraderie and support between them. They supported each other so working together and collaborating and being part of a team that are all aspiring to be haulers- I think it sounded to me like that was really good preparation for getting into a team on the workforce.

Miller: Richard Holmes, we’re almost out of time, but when can people in Portland expect to have you driving your own truck by yourself on the streets of Portland?

Holmes: I’m saying two weeks, I’ll give myself two weeks because I want to make sure, I know I don’t have to ask any questions. I want to make sure I’m able to handle it all by myself because there’s still, you know, the controls and everything I have down, but just fine tuning it. You know, I want to be 100% confident when I get out there because that’s a big machine that you’re driving and there’s a little room for any error. So I just want to be 100% confident, before I get out there. So I give myself two weeks.

Miller: Sounds good. Congratulations and thanks for giving us some of your time today, I appreciate it.

Holmes: Thank you. I appreciate you.

Gihring: Thanks Dave.

Miller: Richard Holmes is a Route Driver now, as of three days ago for Portland Disposal and Recycling. Patrick Gihring is Chief Program Officer at Work Systems, which funds and coordinates Workforce Development Services in Multnomah and Washington counties like this, training for new Garbage and Recycling Haulers.

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