Multnomah County and its partners are on track to double the size of their youth employment programs in two years. The expansion is funded in part by a $1 million allocation from the American Rescue Plan to expand early career and job skills training to Multnomah County youth.
The Board of Commissioners heard details of the expansion in a budget briefing on the Youth Opportunity and Workforce Development program Thursday, June 7. The program, administered by Worksystems Inc, provides youth ages 16 to 24 with training and paid work experiences.
“These investments increase access and capacity for the youth employment system as a whole and continues engagement of the youth for the future workforce,” said Raffaele Timarchi, who coordinates the program.
Since 2014, Multnomah County’s investment has served more than 7,000 participants and provided nearly $8 million in youth wages. The County partners with community-based organizations to identify youth and pair them with a job coach.
In Fiscal Year 2022, the program worked with more than 80 community partners, to hire, train and support 1,085 youth. Those young people worked a total of 48,490 hours , earning $685,166 in wages. Multnomah County directly funded one third of the positions.
Commissioner Susheela Jayapal, who serves on the local Workforce Development Board, helped the program make connections with the private sector. She also worked with Oregon State Senator Michael Dembrow to secure the $1 million allocation from the American Rescue Plan.
“I see that connection to the young people we serve on a regular basis,” Commissioner Jayapal said.
The program prioritizes young people who face barriers to jobs. One third of participants are in families that receive SNAP benefits, with another 25 percent receiving free or reduced lunch. Numerous participants experience housing instability or are in foster care.
The program pairs youth with a job coach from one of the four agencies: Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization, New Avenues for Youth, Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center, and SE Works. Job coaches are assigned based on the youth’s needs and circumstances.
“It’s such a powerful program and an important way to provide onramps for youth to really get ready to be adults with jobs,” Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson said, adding the program provides “really valuable opportunities to use their time and have prosocial ways to do that.”
The expansion of the Youth Opportunity and Workforce Development program comes at an opportune time. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted routines and social supports for adolescents, causing isolation and disconnection. The program provides an outlet and a bridge to meaningful employment.
In response to the pandemic, many sites pivoted their programming for health and safety. The pandemic also increased demand for paid training, leading the program to pilot a series called Learn & Earn.
Under Learn & Earn, participants received stipends for completing milestones in order to recover missing credits needed to graduate. Multnomah County, in partnership with LinkedIn Learning, also engaged youth with career-focused learning opportunities.
In another model, the County partnered with The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) of Oregon to inspire and challenge youth to become future business leaders. A ten-session curriculum helped students learn about team building, communication, time management, and creativity while developing expertise on entrepreneurship and business development. The program culminated in a statewide competition for youth entrepreneurs.
Going forward, program leaders expect demand to pick up as more in-person opportunities become available. This year’s budget will help fund year-round expansion with more coaching partners, along with social and emotional supports for participants.
“This program is so much better,” Chair Deborah Kafoury said. “And kids in our community are so much better because of the work you have done.”