Launched in 2019, SummerWorks is the largest youth internship program in Southwest Washington, providing key career readiness, hands-on experience and paid summer jobs.

Originally launched as a partnership between Workforce Southwest Washington (WSW), Educational Service District 112, WSW’s Next youth career center and the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, the SummerWorks program aimed to fill a variety of workforce needs.

In Southwest Washington, there are 7,600 disconnected youth ages 16 -21. Disconnected youth are youth that are not engaged in work or school. According to a report authored by WSW and the Columbia-Willamette Workforce Collaborative (CWWC), for each year a youth remains out of the labor force, future earnings become reduced by two to three percent. Additionally, according to a 2009 Pew Charitable Trusts Report, for every year young people work, their income in their 20’s rises 14-16 percent. Providing youth with internships and summer jobs increases their prospects for long-term career success.

By providing experience and training opportunities, SummerWorks supports young adults in Southwest Washington by reducing unemployment and offering a diverse array of new positions to the Southwest Washington economy. SummerWorks provides young people with the opportunity to create connections, expand their professional network and develop their skillset.

SummerWorks dynamically supports business needs. The program provides businesses with pre-screened, motivated talent, employees during summer months when other workers may be on vacation, an opportunity to gain new insight from the next generation, and to develop the leadership and management skills of existing employees as they supervise and coach new talent. The program is flexible, allowing businesses and their interns to decide the hours and days per week to work, depending on business needs. In addition, the student wages, insurance and work-readiness training costs are covered by the SummerWorks program with no cost to the hosting organization.

“SummerWorks came here, they brought all of the process with them and then they helped us even with the scheduling and how to track their time. It was all pretty seamless.”

– Nanci Meadows, People Champion at Hubb inc.

The typical SummerWorks experience provides 40 hours of work-readiness training that includes “essential skills” training, which supports learning how to be professional at work, communication, teamwork, and punctuality, and the opportunity to participate in a job shadow and informational interview, followed by a 100-hour paid internship with a local company.

In the first three years, SummerWorks supported approximately 300 internships at more than 40 businesses and nonprofits in Southwest Washington. Partners have included The Children’s Discovery Museum, North County Community Food Bank, Vancouver City Parks Department, Cowlitz County Habitat for Humanity, Gulick Trucking Inc., Cascade Park Library and many more.

In 2019, SummerWorks served 132 students. During 2020, SummerWorks pivoted to allow businesses and interns to host their experiences online in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and reached 73 students. While enrollments dropped during the pandemic, the program is rebounding and will continue to grow.

In 2021, 95 young adults participated in SummerWorks internship at approximately 40 businesses. In addition, 134 young adults participated in job shadows and informational interviews resulting in 11,284 internship hours and 5,951 workshop hours. SummerWorks internships for 2022 are currently underway.

Businesses are recruited for the SummerWorks program and connected to internship candidates through the Workforce Southwest Washington (WSW) business services team and staff at Next. WSW possesses strong ties to the region’s high-growth sectors: healthcare, construction, technology and manufacturing. Next staff works to develop partnerships with nonprofits and community-based organizations. With these complimentary areas of expertise, the program attracts a diverse and varied selection of businesses to host interns.

“There isn’t a lot of risk, so if you are trying to evaluate risk and reward, I think there’s more rewards. I think the rewards are you get to engage with someone’s future. This is an opportunity to influence a young person’s career, possibly even their life and their entry into the workforce.”

– Charles Norris, Manager of Workforce Planning and Inclusion, PeaceHealth

In addition to hosting interns, a variety of organizations have provided funding to support SummerWorks. In 2019, PeaceHealth donated $5,000 to the program. In 2021 JPMorgan Chase provided a $50,000 grant and returned in 2022 with a $100,000 grant. The Washington State Division of Vocational Rehabilitation was the program’s primary funder through 2021.

For WSW, investing in young adults is fundamental. WSW believes that every person should have access to quality employment and training opportunities. SummerWorks provides this for young adults, giving them key training and hands-on work experience. WSW’s strategic plan, outlines three pillars to economic prosperity for the region, Business Growth and Recovery, Economic Mobility and Systems Change.

The SummerWorks program directly supports business growth and recovery by developing diverse talent within the emerging workforce and pairing these young adults with businesses. This provides a dual victory, meeting hiring demands while growing the workforce. For students, SummerWorks furthers economic mobility by providing training, job shadows, informational interviews, work experience and network building.

Mobilizing the pillar of systems change, SummerWorks creates integral summer jobs for historically underrepresented young adults, including “opportunity youth” who are not working or in school. In partnership with Next, the SummerWorks program connects opportunity youth to summer jobs. Through partnership with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR), WSW ensured that youth with disabilities had access to the program, in addition to case management and counseling and additional supports provided by DVR.

“The vision of SummerWorks is to someday assure that every youth in Southwest Washington has access to crucial summer jobs, and part of achieving that involves assuring that our program is accessible, culturally responsive, and trauma-informed in a way that makes it compelling and within reach for Southwest Washington’s diverse youth.”

– Benton Waterous, WSW Director of Programs

Is your company interested in hosting a SummerWorks intern?

Learn more about the program here or contact Workforce Southwest Washington’s Director of Programs at bwaterous@workforcesw.org.

Young adults interested in SummerWorks can learn more and apply by contacting the Next career center in your County:

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