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High School Internships Go Virtual

Update on the Port's COVID-19 response Learn more.

August 20, 2020

During a typical summer at the Port, hallways, offices, and facilities are bustling with energetic high school and college interns. These students lend a hand on projects and daily operations while learning about different careers and gaining professional experience. Due to COVID-19, this summer’s internship program looks a little different but still offers the same valuable opportunity for students to network, explore different career paths, and develop their skillset. In the midst of the pandemic-related economic downturn, the Port is continuing to prioritize youth internship programs, creating economic vitality in the region and drawing young people to Port careers.

Twenty-five local high school students are participating in this summer’s virtual internship program, spending 20 hours a week working with the Port’s Human Resources team on a project that allows them to explore different careers at the Port and share that knowledge with youth in the community. 

Instead of the typical competitive hiring process, this year’s interns were selected by Port community partners like El Centro de la Raza, Duwamish Valley Youth Corps, African Chamber of Commerce, Community Passageways, and Muckleshoot and Suquamish tribes. 

By youth for youth

Interns are developing an outreach tool that young people in our community can use to learn about port-related industries. The functionality of the tool, built as an interactive PowerPoint, is inspired by the Choose your own Adventure book series, where the reader makes choices that determine the main character’s actions and the plot’s outcome. Using the tool, users can navigate back and forth to read about careers and sectors and skills that are particularly interesting to them.

Interns will present the PowerPoint to a virtual audience on August 28; afterwards it will be available on the Port’s website. The tool will be available in English and in Spanish to reflect the diversity of this year’s interns (almost half speak Spanish) and the community the Port serves.

At the beginning of the program, interns were divided up into four different groups. Each group is responsible for researching one of the Port-related industries: aviation, maritime, construction trades, and sustainability.

“Interns interview Port employees to find out the skills they need for a particular career path,” said Human Resources Outreach Program Manager Amberine Wilson, who leads the Port’s internship program. “If this tool turns out to be successful and cool we’ll use it as a prototype and continue to build out in the future and turn it into an app and a website.”

Building skills

Because the internship is virtual, communication and collaboration happens through Microsoft® Teams meetings and other online tools. Through the course of the project, interns develop teamwork, project management, presentation, networking, and interviewing skills, while getting a deep dive into careers they have an interest in.

Jennifer Em, a Human Resources college intern, helped lead the group of high school interns researching careers in the aviation sector.

“At first, we weren’t sure how high school interns would adjust to being at home working, but the project has allowed them to network with other and each intern is able to choose something interesting to them. It’s an opportunity to do research on the industry through talking to people and making connections and developing an understanding of what aviation is.” 

Em said she has been able to grow her own leadership skills through this project and throughout the course of her own internship.

“I’m on the shy side and I don’t always like to speak up, but since I’ve been in a position to lead others, I’ve gained confidence and communication skills.”

High school intern Daniella Cortez said she has learned to step out of her comfort zone.

“I’m able to type up a document without checking with my team every two seconds,” she said. “It’s good experience working in an office and professional setting. It helps us set ourselves up for the future and equip us with all these skills we’ll need in our next job.”

Intern Shane Moses who just graduated from Muckleshoot Trible School, said working remotely has made him more conscious about holding himself accountable.

“I make sure I’m putting in the effort. I check email and get on calls each day. I’m more dependent on myself. It’s a good skill to have, to be prepared for anything.”

Students who live further from Port offices have also been able to participate in this year’s program.

“If I had had to commute, I wouldn’t have been able to do it," said Cassady Hill, a senior at Chief Kitsap Academy who lives across the water from Seattle. “This has opened up a lot of opportunities for a lot of different people.”

Vivian Paredes, senior at Holy Names Academy, said she has learned to work as part of a team.

“I learned to divide work evenly and find the balance between speaking up and letting others talk. This has helped me be better at communicating and connect with my team. We can all relate to each other and there is a great sense of unity.”

Alexis Sorm, a senior at Raisbeck Aviation, said talking with different people across the Port has helped provide important perspective. 

“We have so much more ahead of us in life, and we’ll be able to take this experience with us. It’s changed my view on things and it’s been a very eye-opening, valuable thing.”

Supporting the Port’s mission

Continuing to support youth internship programming as we focus on economic recovery is central to the Port’s mission, Wilson said. 

“Everyone is having economic difficulties, including youth in our region. For many of the youth in this program, the money they are making as an intern is contributing to family income and going toward family expenses. The reason the Port exists is to create economic vitality in our region. The youth internship program is one of the ways we do that. We are also creating a talent pipeline by introducing youth to port and port-related careers. Right now we are in an economic downturn, but in five years we’ll be facing the silver tsunami. Baby boomers will be leaving port-related industries and there won’t be enough people to take those jobs,” Wilson said. 

Through the internship program, the Port is preparing the next generation of workers for these careers with a focus on diverse youth and low-income youth.

“These are strategies to help us develop our future workforce. We benefit and receive help and assistance on real work and develop supervising, coaching, and mentoring skills as we work with interns. In this way it’s talent development for existing employees too,” Wilson said.

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