At school on the job

It’s easier than ever for Southwest Washington businesses to start successful internship programs

PIC training
Partners in Careers works with a number of area businesses in an effort to streamline the creation and maintenance of Worksite Learning Internships. Courtesy of Partners in Careers

What can a high schooler or recent high school graduate contribute to the automotive, national defense or even aerospace industries? Apparently, quite a lot, according to Jay Schmidt, executive vice president and general manager of Silicon Forest Electronics, a Vancouver-based high tech manufacturer.

Several years ago, Silicon Forest worked with Partners in Careers (PIC), a Vancouver-based job training and placement agency, to bring in a recent high school graduate as a production intern. He was trained in soldering, assigned to a machine and went to work. Now he is full time and “runs a very sophisticated piece of equipment,” said Schmidt, adding that this out-of-the-box success story has changed the way Silicon Forest does the business of employment.

“Our facility is located next to Fort Vancouver High School, and we tried to form a program there,” Schmidt said. But there were concerns from teachers and administration about kids working in a manufacturing facility. “We are hearing, ‘there are things that are hot, there are things that are sharp’ and I thought the last time I checked, there are things that are hot and things that are sharp in the back at McDonalds, too.”

But they persisted, he said, and “we started a youth pathway for new manufacturing workers.”

Silicon Forest participated in teacher externships, where teachers spend 40 hours of their summer at a worksite, paid for a by a grant. Then the company participated in a flipped internship, where employees teach a skill in the classroom. At Fort Vancouver, students together with a supervisor from Silicon Forest, overhauled the welding lab into a professional operation.

Silicon Forest Electronics has always been interested in utilizing the talents of young people. But it took PIC to move the needle.

“Partners in Careers keeps the pulse of the primary areas of workforce,” Schmidt said. “They are the first place we go to develop new production interns. Their programs and outreach are really good. They listen well, they’re adaptable and responsive.”

These days, PIC is at the center of an effort to streamline the creation and maintenance of Worksite Learning Internships for both businesses. In 2018, Andrea Surace, In-School Youth Program director at PIC, wrote a comprehensive handbook “intended to aid businesses in Southwest Washington on their decision to develop internship programs.” The 26-page manual is available free of charge and lays out specific information about various internship models, how to get started and resources available to businesses. The business manual was funded by the SW Washington STEM Learning Network, which grants PIC “about $310,000 annually to work with in-school youth, which includes the internships, externships and other career-related activities,” said Surace.

Advice: Be ready to train and integrate interns

PIC coordinates interns in a wide variety of fields. CDM Caregiving Services Deputy Director Heather Erickson said: “CDM has utilized several interns from PIC as caregivers in our Adult Day Services Center. As the population ages, it is vitally important for us to be able to attract young people into the care-giving field, and PIC is a perfect partner for us to do just that. We know that interns from PIC come with the support from their organization and we have found that increases the success of brand new caregivers.”

Both Erickson and Schmidt had similar advice for businesses that want to develop Worksite Learning Internships.

“My advice to other businesses is to make time for these interns,” Erickson said. “I think many organizations think that they just don’t have the time to give, but it’s worth it. I would also say don’t be afraid to give feedback to PIC and the intern.”

Schmidt echoed this sentiment. “There needs to be robust training in place. Be ready to teach them real-world skills,” he said. “Don’t be passive – be active and present.”

A one-stop shop for businesses

Partners in Careers Executive Director Sharon Pesut has been at the center of a recent regional collaboration to create a one-stop shop for companies who want to develop internships, including creating the new manual, and a developing a single point of entry for businesses: nConnect. nConnect, which was launched in 2005 to develop STEM careers for area students, is housed at the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce. Today, any area business can contact nConnect to get involved with “Career Connected Learning” of any kind. Behind the scenes, said Pesut, PIC takes the lead on internship-related inquiries, and other agencies are the liaisons for various other inquiries. For businesses, it’s a hassle-free way to get connected to schools at any level.

Agencies involved include the CREDC, Workforce Southwest Washington, WorkSource, Youthworks Washington, nConnect, PIC, Clark College and all the area school districts. “Last year, programs began shifting,” said Pesut, “and we all began to work a little more collaboratively.”

Businesses Start Here

Want to host an internship? Be a mentor? Conduct a mock interview? Review resumes? Southwest Washington companies that want to get connected to students and recent graduates should begin by clicking http://nconnect.org or calling 360-952-3610.

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