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Steps to Success Program launches sustainable careers through internships and support efforts

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For individuals receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the Steps to Success Program at Portland Community College can be a pathway out of poverty by providing training and support that helps participants become self-sufficient.

Student on iPad.

Neighborhood Career Resource Hub

In 2022, the Portland Metropolitan Workforce Training Center is being redeveloped into an opportunity center to better serve its community and the city.

  • A new two-story facility will be built with classrooms, offices and meeting rooms for both PCC staff and community partners such as the Oregon Department of Human Services.
  • PCC’s Community Workforce Development staff work with participants that are receiving public assistance to develop their skill set and position them to be competitive for family wage jobs.
  • The new facility will feature affordable housing thanks to a partnership with Home Forward.

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One component of Steps to Success is called Jobs Plus, which is a series of available internships that help teach skills, build experience and allow participants to gain references for the future. In addition, some internships are six-month paid opportunities, after which the employer could hire interns on permanently.

Dianne Jones, an employment specialist at PCC’s Portland Metropolitan Workforce Training Center, helps coordinate the internships and teaches life skills classes.

“My team and I are here to provide wrap-around services so that participants can be successful,” Jones said. “We want more for them than just landing a job — we want them to keep it and be proud of the work they do. Some of our participants think, ‘Once I get a job, all my problems will be solved,’ but we provide more holistic training, to help them be successful long-term. We have found that braided educational services which include skill building, social awareness and pride in performance is indeed a recipe for success.”

The “Life Skills” class that Jones mentioned offers training to help people who have been out of work, or need to further develop their soft skills. Hard skills are taught as well, such as budgeting and household management. The majority of the workshops concentrate on self-esteem and identifying work-related strengths. Jones, who is Black, said the majority of people she encounters, who are on assistance, are white and have never been in a class that is led by a person of color. Jones herself had never had a person of color as an instructor growing up in Portland.

“That’s important exposure, both for white participants and those of color,” Jones said. “I give them a different perspective, and I believe they appreciate that. I can speak about bias and cultural incompetencies first-hand. I can speak about inappropriate conversations and pre-judgements.

“I teach them what I like to call common-sense skills, like how to navigate a conflict,” she continued. “I also cover how to take responsibility for your own actions and behavior, how to get along with others, how to not take things personally and how to survive if people do not like you. These are just a few of the topics I cover.”

The internships vary widely and could include a front office role, a certified nursing assistant, childcare provider, or hospital greeter. Steps to Success works to tailor the positions offered to ensure they’re what participants are looking for.

“People want to have jobs that they have pride in,” Jones said. “We’ve steered away from telemarketing and fast-food positions, because candidates weren’t gung-ho about them. We are trying to build bridges, strong committed bridges, so that our folks are not jumping from job to job, but staying and learning the trade from established companies. Multnomah County is a great place to establish a long-term career.”

Dianne Jones.

Dianne Jones.

A partnership Jones is particularly excited about is with Multnomah County, where they have recently created six internship positions as greeters. For $16 an hour, interns check incoming customers’ temperatures and direct them to the department they’re seeking.

Additionally, Jobs Plus internships can be found at organizations like the Parkrose Neighborhood Association, Lifeworks NW, Metro and Marriott.

“We’re looking to expand with even more partnerships in a variety of occupations that reflect the interests of our participants,” she said. “We would love to see more companies saying, ‘We’re ready to make an investment in our community.’”

Jones has built her career around teaching, and has taught courses for workforce development at PCC for over 20 years. She said that the best thing about the program is watching people change and take chances. Many times people come to her and are very shy and don’t know what to expect. But then their demeanor changes.

All my co-workers have seen this phenomenon in their work,” Jones said. “When people bloom in front of you, I think you can’t put a price on that.”

About Sarah Rose Evans

Sarah Rose Evans is a graduate of Columbia University's school of the arts, and has been working for Portland Community College since 2015. more »