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Intern Program Puts High School Students To Work

Career-technical education was an undisputed winner in the recently-adjourned legislative session. And Thursday, Oregon announced who’ll be in control of millions of dollars in career education grant money.

One North Portland internship program will likely compete for those funds.

Above Vigor Industrial’s ship repair shop, a recent high school grad is hunched over a computer.

Rebecca Sanford looks at a drawing on a computer

Rebecca Sanford looks at a drawing on a computer

Rob Manning/OPB

Rebecca Sanford is still getting used to the occasional bang or crash from the shop floor. It’s a reminder that the parts the Franklin High grad is drawing on a computer will get installed on a ship.

“One that I’m doing right now — on one of the ships, it has a door that needs to be sealed up, because they’re not using it anymore,” she says.

Sanford plans to attend the University of Portland in the fall, to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering. But she likes more than design.

“I’m able to actually go on the ships and see what needs to be done and watch my mentor take the measurements. I’ll write down the measurements for him, we’ll double-check the measurements. I really like doing that, but I also want to do something hands on,” she says.

Alex Prihodiko is Sanford’s mentor. He says her interest in the hands-on aspect fits what companies like Vigor need.

“The bigger piece of the puzzle is the field experience. Like I said, anybody can draw,” Prihodiko explains.

Rebecca Sanford is one of four paid interns improving their field experience at Vigor as part of a month-long program.

They’ll get chances to draw parts in the temperature-controlled layout loft and work with electricians and machinists on the shop floor.

The interns are from Franklin and Centennial high schools in Portland: schools with steel shop programs. Three more interns are headed to similar internships at Daimler.

The fulcrum between the schools and industry is the poverty fighting non-profit, Impact Northwest. Polly Bangs is the group’s coordinator for the Pathways to Manufacturing partnership.

“Some folks from Vigor approached me and just said ‘hey, we haven’t seen kids down here forever, we need kids, we want to talk about more kids getting exposed to these careers.’ So it kind of started there with a conversation, and then built into a pilot program, and then will grow into the embedded program at Centennial High School,” Bangs explains.

Initiatives to help career-technical education sailed through Salem last month, essentially unopposed.

Clayton Holstine with Kent Senef.

Clayton Holstine with Kent Senef.

Rob Manning/OPB

Educators say career programs can keep students in high school.  People in industry, like machinist Kent Senef at Vigor, say they struggle to keep good workers.

“Really hard to get anyone to stay around. They’ll learn this trade as a machinist, and then they’ll leave. I mean, we pay good here. For some reason, a lot of young people will learn something, and then just move on, move away, or go away,” Senef says.

Chris Barber supervises electricians at Vigor. He doesn’t seem to mind losing some of those young workers.

“There’s a lot of kids who come in, you can tell they’re lazy right off the bat. They talk about all the money they need, and then all of a sudden, they’re calling in sick,” Barber says.

By contrast, Barber says the new interns are willing to work. He sees potential in Kacy Robinson — the Centennial High graduate he’s mentoring. Robinson unfolds a brochure about a training program.

“Chris, the guy I’m shadowing right now, pointed me out to an apprenticeship program — it’s a five-year program for indoor electricians, that I would like to probably go into,” Robinson says.

The interns are learning from workers who aren’t their mentors, too.

Clayton Holstine graduated with Robinson from Centennial High.

“A lot of times, people walk by us and say ‘stay in school’ or ‘don’t work here’ and stuff like that,” Holstine says.

Intern Jonathan Suarez went to Franklin.

Don Fritz with intern Jonathan Suarez.

Don Fritz with intern Jonathan Suarez.

Rob Manning/OPB

“When they’re already hunched over picking something up, and they’ll move, and they’re still hunched over, and then they’ll come and, and tell us ‘You don’t want to be like me, you work to be up there, and point up here, in the air conditioning, not burning in the summer and getting frozen in the winter.’ I don’t know. Good advice, I guess,” Suarez says.

Suarez hopes to go to college, and land one of those jobs with air conditioning. But Clayton Holstine says he’d rather work with his hands outside, than be confined to a cubicle.

Pathways to Manufacturing is working with the Centennial School District to beef up industrial classes, training, and internships, to reach up to 200 high schoolers a year. Whether the effort can expand to other schools, depends on whether Oregon’s new career education committee, school leaders, and manufacturers prioritize internship programs, going forward.


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Intern Program Puts High School Students To Work