ONTARIO — More than 30 people gathered in the Collins Room at Four Rivers Cultural Center on Monday for the weekly luncheon held by the Ontario Area Chamber of Commerce. The main presentation was on how to equip young people with jobs skills in the 21st-century job market.
Guest speaker Brian Bond, internship coordinator for the Malheur Education Service District, provided an audience of the ESD’s Malheur Works internship program. He said the mission was “to connect the learning needs of youth to the talent needs of industry resulting in a more inclusive and vibrant local economy by equipping young people with job-ready skills.”
The program, which just completed its first year, is a nine-weeks paid internship for graduated seniors, along with pairing employers with prospective talent and provides a meaningful work experience for youth and filling a labor gap in the industry.
The program also provides weekly professional development workshops and mentorships provided by community volunteers.
The program covers three pillars: work experience, mentorship and professional development.
The program is mainly funded by grants from the Oregon Community Foundation, the Eastern Oregon Border Economic Development Board, eXtension Foundation: Impact Collaborative, the Ford Family Foundation, Eastern Oregon Workforce Board, WorkSource Oregon-Eastern Oregon Workforce and the Malheur ESD.
Bond said that Malheur County has the highest child poverty rate in the state of Oregon and the highest negative net migration rate, meaning there are more people leaving Malheur County then there are moving compared to the entire state.
He said students graduating high school and applying into the workforce are lacking the following skills: work experience, work ethic, 21st century skills and a lack of soft skills (communications skills and critical thinking).
He said that the internship program gives the students the opportunity to “gain valuable applied experience in the workplace,” and gives employers the opportunity to guide and evaluate talent within the nine-week program.
Malheur Works program had 10 host sites take part in last year’s program, some of which included Oregon Department of Human Services, Nyssa Gardens Assisted Living and Snake River Pack & Ship.
The hosts agree to hire an intern at minimum wage or higher throughout the course of the nine-week program.
If the host is unable to provide full-time wages, Malheur Works will help pay the salary through grants.
The internship is supervised and guided by company personnel, which helps develop and enhance the intern’s abilities along with improving their economic standing.
Bond said that after the completion of the program, 90% of interns were confident of their new soft skills that they gained with the program. Moreover, 100% of interns have been able to obtain contacts and professionals for future references to use in the future after completing college or are searching for employment in the job market.
Bond said the Malheur Works program also provides mentors, resume and cover letter training for interns.
Of those interns who participated in the program, 80% were female and 20% were male. Forty percent took part in ESL programs and 50% percent were from a minority representation. Eighty percent of the interns identified as low income, and 20% are part of the foster care system.
Bond said the main challenge for next year’s program is trying to secure future host sites. This is because some businesses are still struggling to stay open due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.
Bond also said Malheur Works is exploring the possibility of tying high school or college credits to the program.
He said officials will start touring high schools throughout Malheur County in January or February of 2022 and taking applications for the second program.