Oct. 5, 2019 — Wednesday’s October meeting of the Florence Area Community Coalition (FACC) offered presentations from two people who hope to assist younger Florence residents attain meaningful long-term employment.
The FACC’s mission is to improve the quality of life in Western Lane County through partnerships, networking, volunteerism, community involvement, education and awareness. This month’s topic was relevant as it discussed providing career technical education opportunities for area students.
These opportunities are primarily for young people seeking an alternative to attending college and wish to avoid acquiring the debt and spending the many years associated with obtaining a degree.
Betsy Yraguen, a media account executive for television station KEZI, is spearheading “Skilled to Work,” an employment initiative geared towards individuals just entering the work force.
The program was the result of discussions Yraguen had with a coworker about the lack of young people that were working in fields that would have traditionally been referred to as vocational training.
“I’ve been married 37 years to a third-generation logger,” she said. “When we graduated from high school, and he was a senior, they built a house in construction class. … The pendulum kind of swung to ‘everybody needs to go to college to be successful,’ and now my husband’s company is not able to hire skilled workers. Our generation is aging out and even teachers of vocational education are hard to find, so we have a real problem.”
Difficulties in hiring trained workers informed and inspired the creation of the Skilled to Work program, which has a two-fold purpose: education and employment. Skilled to Work’s two goals are intertwined and revolve around the increasing need for trade and construction trained individuals to fill openings in these and related fields.
It is important to the program to offer younger individuals the opportunity to learn a meaningful trade with the potential to earn a good wage, specifically for those that are not college bound.
“We now know there is a severe shortage of skilled trade workers and the current workforce is getting older,” Yraguen said. “We have had 40 years of telling kids the only way to be successful is with a college career and we also now know that is not true. We need to change the conversation and we need to be more positive and more supportive of our non-college bound students.”
The Skilled to Work program is more than just a job website; it is a comprehensive program that includes an internship component and an extended apprenticeship period. The program is also focused on finding a position for a potential intern that meshes with their interests or future employment goals.
Yraguen also sought to dispel what she sees as misperception, that this generation is less interested in learning a skill and working hard than those that preceded it.
“I am here to tell you that is just not true. In reality, kids want to work. I have many high schoolers that are very interested in learning a good trade and they are not college bound,” Yraguen said.
The Skilled to Work initiative is an ongoing feature on Monday night broadcasts on KEZI and there is an interactive component to the station’s corresponding web page. Interested young people can look through the employers and training opportunities available and then contact the station or the company to determine if the selection will work for both parties.
The Skilled to Work site currently lists more than a dozen companies that are actively seeking employees and apprentices to fill openings in highly paid trade positions. The partnership between KEZI and these employers is unique in that it is an initiative that crosses multiple media platforms and can be accessed on all types of devices.
Ultimately, connecting the employer to potential employees is the hoped-for end result of the Skilled to Work program.
“We really want to get the word out to parents, students, teachers and even guidance counselors that may not be familiar with the program or even the need for these workers that there are many opportunities out there that do not require a college degree and are in very high demand,” Yraguen said.
The second speaker at Wednesday’s meeting was Brianna Vincent, who works under the auspices of the Oregon Department of Health and Human Services (DHS) and Looking Glass Community Services works with the state on youth related initiatives.
According to Vincent, funding for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Youth Employment Program has been increased. She also wanted Florence-area youth to know they will now be eligible to participate in the paid internship program.
“We do two programs right now. One is a job training program; it is a longer-term program that helps youth get involved in schools if they have dropped out or if they want to college. We can help them get jobs or get registered in apprenticeships or different youth programs that they might be interested in,” Vincent said.
According to the county managed website, Looking Glass’s program is to engage eligible youth in job preparation/training as well as to place the youth in a paid work experience that matches their interests and skill level. These can include on-the-job training; career and training guidance; help with applications, resumes and cover letters; training in financial literacy; and CPR/First Aid Training.
The TANF program does have some eligibility qualifications that are related to income and state support. Teens can participate in the program only if they or their parents are receiving state aid.
“I work with this program in partnership with DHS … to identify teens that are interested in working,” Vincent said, “What I do is meet with the teen and see what type of stuff they have done before … then I will see what they are interested in and what they are excited about. Then I look for places in the community near to where they live and then place them at a work site.”
Vincent is actively seeking teens in the Florence area to join in the TANF training program and suggests that students or their parents or guardians contact her directly to find out the eligibility requirements for participation in the program.
Vincent can be reached at the Riverfront School and Career Center in Eugene, 541-302-2554, and Yraguen can be reached at KEZI.com.