Clatsop County business and education leaders are forming a countywide paid internship program to place more students in local jobs.
The effort started over the summer, when Hampton Affiliates hosted two interns who worked on projects in the Warrenton mill and learned about marketing and other aspects of the timber company.
“We’ve had a strong partnership with Hampton Affiliates for the last couple of years,” said Craig Hoppes, superintendent of the Astoria School District. “It sort of came down to the question of whether we’re preparing kids for college … or whether we’re preparing kids right out of high school for the workforce.”
County leaders learned about McMinnville Works, a similar internship program in Yamhill County, and applied to be part of one of their four statewide workshops funded by a grant from the Oregon Talent Council. The initial workshops were all taken, but the leaders banded together to pay $125 per business for up to 20 to attend a fifth workshop Sept. 27 at Clatsop Community College.
Kevin Leahy, executive director of Clatsop Economic Development Resources and a coordinator with the internship program, said he has been reaching out to a number of major businesses in the county, from hospitals and mills to the hospitality industry.
The intern program will be open to students at all five county school districts, along with the college. Originally, the program was meant to be for students 18 and older, Leahy said, but some businesses, such as hotels, want to start training employees as young as 16.
“The beauty of this is that it’s employer-driven,” Leahy said. “It’s almost turnkey, the way that I see this. The business can dictate what the internship is about.”
Participating businesses must be able to host interns for up to six weeks, pay at least minimum wage and provide them an employee mentor and management.
Leading the workshop will be Jody Christensen, the executive director for the McMinnville Economic Development Partnership. Christensen has overseen the McMinnville Works internship program for the past five years.
“When I was going out and meeting with companies, I kept hearing over and over again about the critical issues in finding and keeping talent,” she said. “Positions were being kept open months on end, they weren’t filling jobs.”
The city reached out to Climax Portable Machine Tools, a Newberg company with an internal internship program, and secured seed funding from the Yamhill County Board of Commissioners for a summer pilot at four local companies.
The program took off, she said, and now includes 15 to 20 businesses a year hosting a similar number of students. The businesses focus on project-based work that can be completed during a nine-week summer internship. Participants also go through weekly workshops to learn skills like teamwork and managing finances.
“What we’re trying to do is round out some of the things they might not be learning in school about what it means to be employed,” she said.
Most of the students in McMinnville’s program are juniors and seniors in college from throughout the Pacific Northwest, Christensen said, but each community designs a program fit to local needs.
“We’re not going to get every detail worked out in six hours,” she said. “There will be areas up in the air, but we’ll create the basic framework.”