October 29, 2013

More than nine in ten young people getting work experience through the SummerWorks program successfully complete their paid 180-hour internship, Multnomah County’s Board of Commissioners learned at a presentation Tuesday.

And the number of participants in the youth employment program focused on low-income and disadvantaged young people ages 16-21 has grown fourfold in the county under the leadership of Commissioner Loretta Smith.

This past summer, about 100 young men and women gained work and experience in Multnomah County placements.

“We’ve had so much growth in the program,” Smith said at the Oct. 29 board briefing.

“We’re very poised to train the next generation of young people,” Smith said, recalling the value of her own job training when she was in high school.

The SummerWorks program, which uses WorkSystems Inc. as a key partner, aims to develop the next generation of workers to replace retiring Baby Boomers and to support local business by increasing spending in the area’s economy. The program also works to decrease participants’ reliance on public assistance and to reduce youth violence and recidivism rates.

In addition to Multnomah County, other governments such as the city of Portland, TriMet and Washington County offer SummerWorks placements along with the private sector.

The 100 young men and women who worked this past summer in Multnomah County collectively earned more than $144,000 -- money that helps their families make ends meet when the economy remains rough for many. Young people in Multnomah County placements focused on education, health care and community services.

Oregon has the country’s 11th highest percentage of unemployed teenagers, with 36,000 young men and women in the Portland area out of work and out of school, said SummerWorks coordinator Raffaele Timarchi.

In addition to statistics showing 91 percent of the SummerWorks participants successfully completing their internships, other results show 81 percent of the participants were assessed as work-ready and that 93 percent of the participants returned to high school, post-secondary education or became employed.

Next steps for the program’s future include strengthening internal training for young people and interns and connecting programs for at-risk young people with workforce development efforts and educational opportunities. Another step is -- as Commissioner Smith wrote in a recent Portland Business Journal op-ed, growing private sector involvement and investment.