It’s only natural that “Gorge Works,” a technical career internship program organized by the Port of the Dalles and Columbia Gorge Community College, will have its formal kickoff on Oct. 6. That’s because Oct. 6 is “Manufacturing Day” in the United States, a day for celebration of “modern manufacturing meant to inspire the next generation of manufacturers.”
According to Kathy Ursprung, marketing and communications director for the Port of The Dalles, Gorge Works is a program of paid internships for entry-level technician jobs. These internship opportunities can lead to careers that pay relatively well and do not require a four-year degree. Training for these positions can often be found at community colleges, via an apprenticeship, or through on-the-job training.
The program is being launched on Oct. 6 with a series of tours of some of the businesses that will be bringing in interns through Gorge Works.
“We will be offering tours of Oregon Cherry Growers, Mid-Columbia Producers, the Griffith Motors service operation and Innovative Composites Engineering (in White Salmon, Wash.),” Ursprung said. “Also planned are some workshops for job hunters at Worksource Oregon.”
Ursprung said filling skilled jobs -- especially in technology and manufacturing -- is a growing challenge in the United States because of a shortage of skilled workers.
The Gorge Works program has an informal slogan, “Careers start here,” which sums up the ultimate objective of the initiative -- providing a valuable tool to aid area businesses in their recruitment of talent.
“The Port is working with Columbia Gorge Community College, The Dalles Area Chamber of Commerce, and businesses from around the Columbia Gorge to help bring greater awareness of the many really good employment opportunities available with local area businesses,” Ursprung said.
Dan Spatz, manager of marketing and outreach for Columbia Gorge Community College, said there appears to be an effort to diminish the value of a two-year college degree in some quarters.
“It’s a message to young people that if you don’t have a bachelor’s degree, you don’t have a future. It’s always been a stigma, and we need to overcome that,” Spatz said. “We’re missing out on so many trades.”
“My personal belief is that part of it is the result of the heavy emphasis on the need for college degrees in education circles,” Ursprung explained. “Jobs to be had through technical training, apprenticeships or on-the-job training have often been devalued in those circles, giving students the sense of having ‘settled’ for something less than a white-collar job.”
Ursprung pointed out that those beliefs and attitudes are counterproductive, and possibly harmful to businesses and potential employees alike.
According to Spatz, there are 30 million jobs in the United States with salaries that average more than $55,000 a year and do not require bachelor degree programs.
“In reality, some of these blue-collar jobs make as much as or more than office jobs requiring a four-year or higher degree,” Ursprung said. “Just ask the plumbers and electricians with vacation homes and expensive toys in their garages.”
Gorge Works is being created to meet three key goals: To help businesses identify candidates for skilled employment; to provide internship opportunities that allow potential employees to explore local employment opportunities; and to promote the Columbia River Gorge as an excellent place to live and work.
“Through this program, we are hoping to be able to help meet the needs of local businesses for workers, and to encourage our next generation to stay in the area and take advantage of some really pretty terrific career opportunities,” Ursprung explained. “We’re also hoping to correct the misimpression that these jobs are undervalued and underpaid.”
Agriculture, health care, advanced manufacturing, public sector, information technology, wood products, and retail are among the fields that will be represented in the Gorge Works program.
“We’re inviting industry sectors to open their businesses to tours,” Ursprung said.
Companies seeking to hire interns through Gorge Works in 2018 must meet several requirements. First, they must be able to hire interns full-time and pay them at minimum wage for at least nine weeks, starting next June.
The business must also have an employee who is willing to mentor an intern, and must provide an adequate work space for the intern.
In return, the companies don’t have to worry about marketing their internships, wading through applications, and running the program.
The advantage to workers include the fact that one application will link prospective employees to multiple internships in the Gorge; they will learn professional skills every week; network with peers; and connect with Gorge businesses.
“Businesses need workers and workers need good employment,” said Spatz.
Ursprung added that the interns are paid, and become employees of the company they are with for those nine weeks.
“They will be able to tour the region’s manufacturing and business locations, and after their internship, they’ll be connected to the Gorge Works jobs board,” Ursprung said. “Our industrial businesses are desperate for workers.”
“The interest is there,” Spatz added. “We have very good businesses interested in this program. We’re starting on a small scale and will grow from there.”
The application process for the 2018 Gorge Works internships will begin in mid-December and continue through January. The program is open to those who are 18 or over, and those who are selected for an internship will be informed in April.
Businesses that want to be included in the Gorge Works initiative are invited to call Kathy Ursprung or Bayoan Ware at 541-298-4148.