About 7,000 youths in Clark County between ages 16 and 24 are not in school or employed. Officials trying to help them call them “opportunity youth,” and it’s estimated that existing programs aimed to help only them reach about 700.
“They’re just hanging out somewhere,” said Miriam Martin, youth initiatives manager for Workforce Southwest Washington, during Monday’s city council meeting. “A lot of them have dropped out due to needing to take care of their families or not speaking English as a first language.”
Thanks to new grant funding and ongoing investment from the federal government, Workforce Southwest Washington is opening a new one-stop center for youth known as Next.
Next will offer a multitude of services in one space, including r?sum? building, education opportunities and assistance finding employment.
“We found (that) referrals out meant you never see them again,” Martin said. “This is really a system in service of young adults rather than the other way round.”
The new center, at Northeast 136th Avenue and Mill Plain Boulevard, will open Aug. 27 and expand the service capacity to 1,200 young adults.
That’s still cutting it short, Martin said, so Workforce will continue to seek additional funding and improve their level of service.
On-site integration means that those organizations providing assistance to the community can get immediate feedback from those they serve and better ensure success. Partners include Clark College, Vancouver Housing Authority, Clark County Public Health and Clark County Food Bank.
Visitors to Next will not only get information but access to food and the opportunity to shower.
In addition to helping better serve opportunity youth, Workforce’s new programming is designed to help grow the workforce for struggling industries.
Melissa Boles, Workforce’s industry initiatives manager, said they prepare industry plans that evaluate the needs of the industry, including what kinds of employees will succeed, where training is needed and where there might be gaps.
“The reason we do these is to set up programming at places like Next so we can get people into these industries,” Boles said.
Providing this information also means providers can better showcase opportunities. Boles added that they can more easily show a young adult what it takes to enter the health care field and what opportunities that decision may present.
Next should offer a marked improvement in serving opportunity youth, but Martin said there’s still more to do.
Access to transportation might be an issue, for example. While Workforce has a small budget to offer bus passes, “it’s definitely not as big as it needs to be,” Martin said.
The biggest challenge still facing the community, she added, is access to child care for those the center serves.