Gorge employers were regularly saying they had trouble filling well-paying, good-benefit jobs, even though they didn’t even require a college education.
Meanwhile, area high school kids were taking classes that made them ideal candidates for those jobs, but were still missing out on these employment opportunities.
Enter Gorge Works, a new program through the Port of The Dalles that offers paid summer internships and apprenticeship opportunities. It began taking applications for internships in mid-December, and the application period closes Jan. 31.
There are 13 internships available, and the roughly nine-week apprenticeships will start mid-June. The application is online at gorgeworks.com.
“If you are thinking about your career options, you will definitely want to check out what’s on offer,” said Kathy Ursprung, who, along with Bayoán Ware, is spearheading the program through the port, with help from local economic, employment and education organizations.
Paid work experiences include mechanics, welding, millwright, project management, high-tech manufacture, logistics, process coordination and human resources.
“Gorge Works was started because we were told that our area employers are struggling to find skilled and qualified workers, so we developed the program to build our own workforce,” Ursprung said. “Our motto is ‘Careers Start Here.’”
Many major Gorge employers are working with the program, including Oregon Cherry Growers, Insitu, Innovative Composites
Engineering, SDS Lumber, Mid-Columbia Producers, AAA Metal Fabrication, UTC (Cloud Cap) Technology, CH Urness Motors and Griffith Motors.
“We weren’t really intending to have this many positions this year, but the interest has been really strong,” Ursprung said.
“We kept hearing from our Gorge businesses that they have these great jobs with really good salaries and benefits that did not require a college degree,” Ursprung said.
“Some of them, they struggle to recruit people for these opportunities. And on the flip side, we also saw high school students that were missing out on these opportunities even though they took coursework that could apply to the jobs, like mechanics, and welding and computer classes.
“Our goal was to put the two together, and not only that, but get other people who may have been struggling to pull together a living, and with just a little bit of extra training might be able to get a job that pays a family wage with benefits,” she said.
“That’s just huge and has great potential, for some families, to be transformative.”
She said some of the internships offer pretty decent wages, including one that pays almost $16 an hour.
Employers have to pledge to pay the intern, provide them a workspace, and a staffer to oversee and train them.
“I cannot emphasize enough, for the people that are willing to explore, there are some great opportunities out there,” Ursprung said.
She has been going around to area schools and visiting various classes to promote the internships.
While internships are normally associated with college students, that is not the case here.
“You don’t have to be in an education program to qualify for these,” she said.
High school or college coursework, hobbies, work experience, and volunteer activities, for example, can provide the basis of experience or interest needed for some of the positions.
In most cases, but not all, participants must be at least 18 to qualify.
“Graduating high school seniors, community college students or working people looking for a career upgrade can find some great opportunities through Gorge Works,” Ware said.
“Our primary focus is to introduce local people to skilled careers, and to employers who pay a living wage and offer benefits.”
For example, a production yard coordinator in Moro pays $13 an hour and involves raw fruit receiving.
A human resources assistant post pays $13 an hour and is open to those 16 and older. Job duties include developing daily work schedules and maintaining personnel files.
A full-time composite technician position in White Salmon that pays at least minimum wage will involve fabrication of composite parts through machinery, hand and power tools.
The Gorge Works application is a screening tool used to identify potential matches between applicants and employers.
Once chosen by an employer for further consideration, applicants will be required to complete the employer’s internal application process, which may include a background check and drug screen.
In addition to filling out the online application, applicants must include their resume and cover letter in PDF format. An optional video may also be included, and all can be uploaded from the website.
Only one application is required to apply for any or all of the opportunities offered.
Applicants are asked to describe any experience or coursework in science, business, technology, math and vocational education. The application also asks for brief answers – of 10 to 200 words in length -- to questions such as what you do on an ideal weekend and what kind of people do you like to surround yourself with.
Gorge Works will also coordinate weekly mandatory professional development workshops on a variety of topics including workplace expectation, business communication, project management, leadership, finance, community involvement and other topics.
“Being a strong job candidate involves more than just the skills of the job,” Ware said.
“These workshops can help people become more well-rounded and employable. They are also a great way to learn about the businesses of the Gorge and build connections with other participants.”
The program follows the template established by the successful McMinnville Works program, which has been in operation for six years.