From Student to Worker with Spokane Valley Tech

Posted on May 28, 2015 at 6:00 am

By Sheree West

You never know where an opportunity like taking a school tour might lead you. Last fall, I toured Spokane Valley Tech (SVT), a unique learning environment where high school students gain technical skills with a focus on career and college readiness. The director led me around the facility and explained the school’s different programs. I saw business and entrepreneurship students collaborating on a business financial plan; computer science students engaged in writing code for a mobile app; and engineering students working on a project with a level of focus that left me in awe. All over the building, there were high school students engaged in real-life problem-solving.

In 2014, the national unemployment rate for young adults was 18.5% for ages 18-19 and 11.2% for ages 20-24. To compare, the national unemployment rate for the entire population was 6.2%. After learning those statistics and seeing the Spokane Valley Tech students taking tangible steps to join the workforce, I began to wonder how we can better help our youth successfully navigate the bridge from student to worker.

Doug Tweedy, Regional Labor Economist for the Washington Employment Security Department, gave some context to the aforementioned statistics at a meeting I attended earlier this year. He explained that while there are a significant number of entry level jobs for young people entering the workforce, the challenge lies in demonstrating work experience. Employers want to know if candidates know how to work.

I thought, “Here’s our niche!” As a Library District, we can provide: internships, volunteer experiences, and job shadowing opportunities. On a young person’s resume, that’s valuable work experience that can help them land their first job.

After my visit to SVT, I asked Business and Entrepreneurship Program teacher Patrick Bisson if he would be interested in partnering with the Spokane Valley Library to have a student intern work with me on a project. Patrick was incredibly helpful and worked with me to frame my internship idea around the school’s “Work 101” program requirements. He even recommended a student whose talents and interests fell right in line with the video project I had proposed.

From Student to Worker with Spokane Valley Tech by Sheree West | Spokane County Library DistrictIn February, I met with Brad, a high school senior whose interests in video production and business development were a perfect fit for my project. Together we worked to produce the first in a series of short videos on business education topics, featuring successful local businesses as our topic presenters.I brought the original idea to the table but Brad brought the talent. He’d already worked on video projects in the past, and his participation in the SVT Entrepreneurship Program meant that he was a knowledgeable and enthusiastic team member when it came to developing content. This was a pleasant and welcome surprise.

It was wonderful to watch our project progress. First, we recruited a business to feature and developed our content. Then we did our filming and video editing. Brad’s energy and creativity made him a pleasure to work with; I was admittedly a little sad when our project was over. Overall, working with a school to provide a student with an internship experience ended up being much easier and more richly rewarding for me and my library than I had ever imagined it would be.

Even though my time with Brad is over, the exciting thing is that our partnership with Spokane Valley Tech continues. Students in the Computer Science Program are helping us by creating course materials in Microsoft PowerPoint that library staff can use to teach classes for library members. Next fall, I’ll work with SVT teacher Patrick Bisson again to recruit another student intern, and the business education video series will grow. Both the library and students benefit from these types of partnerships. Students gain valuable work experience while the library benefits from their youthful perspective and skills. It’s our hope that over time, we’ll get more students from other local high schools involved in internships and volunteer opportunities at our libraries.

At the library, we’re in the business of making connections between people and information. When we get the opportunity to connect people with the growth opportunities they’ve been seeking, it’s not only rewarding, but it’s also quite a lot of fun.

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