County youth opportunities program to double over two years, providing job training and community support

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June 9, 2022

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 extend early career training and job skills to young people in Multnomah County.

The Board of Commissioners heard the details of the expansion during a budget briefing on the Youth Opportunities and Workforce Development Program on Thursday, June 7. The program, administered by Worksystems Inc, provides young people aged 16 to 24 with training and paid work experience.

“These investments increase access and capacity of the youth employment system as a whole and keep young people engaged for the future workforce,” said Raffaele Timarchi, who coordinates the program.

Since 2014, the Multnomah County investment has served more than 7,000 participants and provided nearly $8 million in youth salaries. The county partners with community organizations to identify young people and match 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. These 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 sits on the local Workforce Development Council, has helped the program establish links with the private sector. She also worked with Oregon State Senator Michael Dembrow to secure the $1 million allocation from the US bailout.

“I see this connection with the young people we serve on a regular basis,” Commissioner Jayapal said.

The program prioritizes youth who face barriers to employment. One-third of attendees are from families who receive SNAP benefits, and an additional 25% receive a free or reduced-price lunch. Many participants experience housing instability or are in foster care.

The program matches youth with a job coach from one of four agencies: Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization, New Avenues for Youth, Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center and SE Works. Work coaches are assigned according to the needs and circumstances of the young person.

“It’s such a powerful program and an important way to pave the way for young people to really prepare to be adults with jobs,” Curator Jessica Vega Pederson said, adding that the program provides “really valuable opportunities to use their time and have prosocial ways to do it.”

The expansion of the Youth Opportunities and Workforce Development program comes at an opportune time. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted teens’ social routines and supports, causing isolation and disconnection. The program offers an outlet and a gateway to meaningful employment.

In response to the pandemic, many venues have pivoted their health and safety programming. The pandemic has also increased demand for paid training, leading the program to pilot a series called Learn & Earn.

As part of Learn & Earn, participants received stipends to complete milestones 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 inspire young people to become future business leaders. A ten-session program helped students learn about team building, communication, time management and creativity while developing expertise in entrepreneurship and business development. The program culminated in a statewide competition for young entrepreneurs.

Going forward, program officials expect demand to increase as more in-person opportunities become available. This year’s budget will help fund expansion throughout the year with more training partners, as well as social and emotional supports for participants.

“This program is so much better,” President Deborah Kafoury said. “And the kids in our community are doing so much better because of the work you’ve done.”

Learn more about employment opportunities for young people this summer.

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