Multnomah County’s future is dependent upon attracting and recruiting recent graduates and members of underrepresented communities into its ranks. Currently only 14% of the county workforce is under 35 years of age compared to 59% of employees over 45. People under 25 years represented only 1.2% of the workforce in 2012. Recent college graduates from underrepresented communities working for the county are even rarer. These graduates are least likely to know about the many career opportunities the county has to offer. With no personal frame of reference, they do not envision themselves performing these jobs much less know how to qualify for and secure them. Minorities represent 21% of the county’s current workforce and occupy only 23% of management and professional positions.
At the same time, county services are being extended to increasingly diverse group of people and utilizing culturally-specific strategies, interventions and staffing is considered best practice. Also at play is the significant number of county employees and leaders who will be retiring. 31.5% of county employees were eligible for early or full retirement in 2013. They should be replaced with people with needed skill sets, leadership potential, commitment to public service and who share the cultures of the people the county serves.
The ODE College to County Mentorship Program positively impacts these challenges. It helps broaden the pool of interested and qualified job candidates to include college students from underrepresented and low-income backgrounds. The program augments existing recruitment efforts by placing special emphasis on the recruitment, supervision and mentoring of promising college students in performing substantive work on county projects, systems and processes over their summer break. It assists in their understanding of the pathways to employment and leadership in various county careers. Finally, it clearly demonstrates management support for diversity and equity in county recruitment and succession planning and the extra effort required to achieve and sustain these outcomes.
The ODE College to County Mentorship Program exposes college students, primarily from selected college education support service programs, to various county careers so they will consider the county for employment once they graduate. These students are chosen for their solid academics and leadership potential. The program offers three months temporary employment doing substantive work on county projects, systems or processes. While performing the work, participants learn about the knowledge, skills and abilities required to secure positions in their assigned project area and they are oriented to the county’s recruitment process. They grow to understand the organization’s role in carrying out the county’s mission and gain a greater appreciation for public service.
Mentorship is a key activity of the program as students carry out assignments and develop the soft skills needed to be successful in the workplace. Mentors also benefit from the opportunity to build frontline supervision and leadership skills as they manage the work and professional development of mentees. Training and support for both the mentee, mentor and participating county organization is provided by a coordinator through each stage of the program. Finally, formal and informal performance evaluations are conducted during the program as well as documentation and final program evaluation.
The program has successfully operated for the past five summers and mentorship opportunities and student participation has grown 4 to 93. To date all county departments and most offices are participating. Several students have found part-time employment during the school year and nine graduates have been hired into full time county employment. But the most significant impact has been on the mentees who have not only grown in skills and applied their education to the work of the county but also in confidence that they can actualize their goals, become role models for their families and leaders in their communities.