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2017 SummerWorks Youth Employment Program Launch: More Than Just A Summer Job

Photo from 2017 SummerWorks Launch feat. Program T-shirt

Welcomed by Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith, the Urban League of Portland launched this year’s SummerWorks Youth Employment Program. On June 30th, sponsors gathered at the Portland State University campus to kick off the paid internship program for youth in Portland.  Over 400 participants between the ages of 16 and 24 and their supporters were present. Featured speakers at the launch included the Honorable Judge Adrienne Nelson, WorkSystems Executive Director Andrew McGough, Commissioner Smith, and other professionals from the Portland Metropolitan area.

Since its initiation in 2009, the SummerWorks program has placed 4,816 youth in summer jobs. Last year alone, SummerWorks partnered with municipal organizations, non-profit businesses and for-profit companies throughout the Portland, Multnomah County, and Washington County to hire 1,039 program participants into paid internships. Of those 83% were completed successfully. This year, the goal is to exceed both numbers.

“Getting that first opportunity for paid employment is important. Starting this program today, is starting the rest of your life,” said Commissioner Smith at the SummerWorks launch event.

For the past seven years, Smith has advocated and secured funding for the program.

Comm. Smith (Left) and the Pres. Nkenge Harmon Johnson (right)

President and Chief Executive Officer of the Urban League of Portland, Nkenge Harmon Johnson, said, “Thank you to Commissioner Loretta Smith for continuing to lead Multnomah County and partners like the City of Portland, to fund this program. It’s not enough to say that we value youth. We must also put our resources to work for their benefit. Commissioner Smith has done that again this summer”.

The SummerWorks Program provides 16-24 year olds with hands-on industry experience through gainful summer internships. Interns will interact with working professionals, and develop the necessary skills and mindsets to succeed in their careers and in their communities. The benefits of the program extend beyond having summer job for this summer; the skills learned last for a lifetime.

Nationally, youth employment has plunged from 46% to 27% over the past decade. Yet, in the Portland-Vancouver Metro region, employment rates are even lower amongst children of color. According to the Urban League of Portland’s latest State of Black Oregon report, over half of 16 to 19 year old Black youth and about a quarter of Black 20-24 year olds are unemployed in Oregon. In comparison, white youth ages 16-19 have an unemployment rate of 23% and 16% for 20-24 year olds.

The Urban League of Portland. (2015). Unemployment Rates in Oregon by Age. State of Black Oregon, p.50.

Research shows that unemployed youth are more likely to struggle to find employment into adulthood.

Data indicates that Black in Multnomah and Washington counties are likely to be less academically prepared and more economically disadvantaged when compared to White youth in the region (2016 SummerWorks Annual Report). In SummerWorks, more than 75% of participants identify as people of color.

“The Urban League is delighted to support a program that provides our youth with the opportunity to empower themselves, and their community. Getting an early start on building career skills and professional habits strengthens their long-term employment prospects. In turn, hiring youth for paid summer internships strengthens our area’s workforce. Youth summer jobs are an imperative step to drive economic prosperity for all Oregonians,” said CEO Harmon Johnson.

Funding for SummerWorks 2017 is provided by Multnomah County, Worksystems (via Workforce Innovation & Opportunity Act Funding), City of Portland, State of Oregon – Dept. of Human Resources, TriMet, Portland Public Schools, Hillsboro School District, Washington County, public donations, and private companies.

Seats were filled quickly in the Lincoln Hall Auditorium for the 2017 SummerWorks