PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Driving Diversity in Portland program is paving new pathways for women and people of color.

Friday, 12 new students graduated from the program, which offers training and career opportunities to those historically underrepresented in the recycling and waste industry.

“It’s been a life changer,” exclaimed recent program graduate Raul Ramirez “It’s gotten me a great career, on the right path. And it’s something I can look forward to and be proud of.”

Ramirez told KOIN 6 News the program has helped increase diversity. “It’s important because this world is diverse and everyone deserves an opportunity,” he said.

Ramirez now works for Waste Management and is part of the program’s fast growing legacy of success, with 80% of graduates already employed as industry drivers in Portland.

The training teaches hands-on skills, offering participants the opportunity to visit transfer stations, landfill sites and recycling centers during the program.

The program also prepares students to take the Oregon Commercial Driver License (CDL) test and offers graduates the opportunity to interview with local employers.

The Portland Justice Fund financed the program in partnership with Worksystems, the Portland Haulers Association, Interstate Trucking Academy, SE Works, and the City of Portland.

Former State Senator Chip Shields, and founder of the Portland Justice Fund, said he was called to create the program after noticing truck driving careers were among the fastest growing middle-income jobs, and yet women and people of color were not represented. 

Recently, Mayor Ted Wheeler has called for the City of Portland American Recovery Program Act (ARPA) funding to continue the supporting the program. “The Driving Diversity in Portland program provides pathways for those often overlooked in the trucking industry,” he said. “The ongoing success of this program has shown progress in creating a more equitable workforce in the local recycling and waste sector.”

Friday’s celebration marked the program’s second graduating class, with financial support of ARPA and the City of Portland, the program is slated to continue driving more diverse individuals towards career goals.