Rebecca Sprengeler felt bad not being able to take on shifts at her usual summer job at Pelican Brewing Co. in Cannon Beach, despite the need for help during the busy tourist season.
But the recent Warrenton High School graduate received a job offer managing social media and helping to market the Sunset Empire Park and Recreation District in Seaside, more in line with her goal of becoming a graphic designer.
“I could just be working during the summer, working at a restaurant down in Cannon Beach, but this is helping me get to where I want to be in the future,” Sprengeler said.
Sprengeler is one of 16 students in Clatsop Works, a new summer internship program to give local students an introduction to the workforce.
Interns from Astoria, Warrenton and Knappa high schools, along with Clatsop Community College, have taken up a wide variety of full-time jobs around the county with Sunset Empire, Bergerson Construction Inc., Englund Marine & Industrial Supply Co., Columbia Memorial Hospital, Providence Seaside Hospital, Hampton Lumber, Ocean Crest Chevrolet Buick GMC, Lum’s Auto Center, the Haystack Rock Awareness Program, Martin North Hospitality and Rickenbach Construction Inc.
Students spend each Wednesday in professional development workshops learning customer service, safety, communication and other skills.
Local school districts and the college provided funding for the internship program’s coordinator, Anna Stamper, who led students through the process of applying and interviewing for jobs.
“It’s very real-world,” Stamper said. “The students negotiate their pay rate.”
One early entrant was Hampton Lumber, which last year took on two local high schoolers as part of a pilot program. Cliff Tuttle, who oversees special projects for Hampton Lumber, said he’d spoken with Craig Hoppes, superintendent of Astoria schools, about how to get kids more engaged in school and ready for the workforce. Hampton Lumber has also helped expand career-technical courses at Astoria High School.
“Everywhere, Hampton tries to take on interns,” he said. “It was a natural fit. We were surprised by the number of kids who did not know about the opportunities” locally.
Hampton employs more than 140 people, with an average wage of above $22 an hour. The mill interviewed several candidates and settled on Will Berezay, a senior at Astoria High School who started late last month working 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. shifts on the mill’s cleanup crew, where most employees get their start.
“I knew I would be shoveling sawdust,” Berezay said. “I wasn’t expecting much. I was just ready to get my hands dirty.”
Mentoring Berezay is Jama Evans, who after decades in day care took a job on the mill’s cleanup and planing crews. Evans teaches Berezay proper work and safety habits at the mill, a maze of wood, metal, concrete and heavy machinery. The two make visits to Hampton Lumber’s export docks, corporate offices and tree farms, learning all aspects of the business from trees to lumber.
Skyler Archibald, executive director of Sunset Empire, said the agency created a marketing position just for Sprengeler, who has experience in graphic design and photography, and to bolster the recreation district’s public presence. Sprengeler receives relative autonomy to cover the district’s programs and create a newsletter, and will also help design a new website.
“She’s a member of our management team,” Archibald said. “She sits in when we’re discussing policies. It’s just holding her to a standard we hold all our employees to, about punctuality and responsibility and those sorts of things.”
Employers agree that the internship program isn’t about finding a pool of new employees so much as exposing the area’s youth to local opportunities and how to be a good employee.
A native of Seaside, Archibald said he hadn’t desired coming back to the area because low wages, a high cost of living and the seasonal nature of business made living locally a challenge. But the region has developed new career opportunities with education, health care and local government he wanted to share with young people.
Stamper had about five weeks to arrange the work sites for students. With more time next year, she hopes to expand the pool of government, education, fisheries, manufacturing and other major local industries taking part.
“Some of the businesses could afford it, but they couldn’t dedicate a mentor,” Stamper said. “They need to have the ability to do the training and put them into a position they can learn and grow from.”
She is also looking for more funding sources to help low-income students take part.
Kevin Leahy, the director of Clatsop Economic Development Resources, who oversees Stamper, said the goal is to expand the internship program next summer to 24 students. Similar internship programs in Washington County have more than 100 participants.
The Northwest Regional Education Service District, which oversees a hub focused on expanding career-technical learning opportunities, is also looking to export Clatsop Works’ model to Columbia and Tillamook counties in the next couple of years, Stamper said.
“To have this momentum in our first year is really promising,” Leahy said.