Serving up experience
Clark’s first Career Launch programs have already brought in more than $1.5 million in state funds. With 10 more programs recently certified, the college expects to bring in more next year.
The pandemic has been hard on many businesses, especially restaurants and small shops like bakeries. It has all but wiped out their employee pool, making it increasingly difficult to find people who want to work front-line jobs as we emerge from isolation. Just ask Josh Svenhard, vice president of operations for Eurobake in Portland, Ore. Like a lot of other businesses, Eurobake has struggled to find workers in 2021.
But a partnership with Clark College and a state initiative offered some relief. Eurobake ended up with three employees connected to Clark this summer: two were Clark alumni and a third was a current student.
Ryan Fowler ’21 was looking to make a change in his life when he enrolled in the professional baking and pastry arts program at Clark College in 2018. He’d been bouncing between “dead-end jobs,” he said, and he longed for the satisfaction and stability of a career.
“Baking was familiar, it’s something I’d been doing with my grandparents or my mom since I was a little kid,” he said. “It’s something I always had good memories of doing.”
Still, when Fowler enrolled at Clark, he didn’t have a clear picture of what his eventual career would be. In the final quarter of his degree program, he got an internship at Eurobake. The bakery produces traditional European-style treats sold in 10 Western states.
When he graduated in June, Fowler accepted a full-time job at Eurobake, where he is now a working foreman and supervisor. He oversees half of the 43 employees who operate the bakery. One day this fall, the bakery produced 11 pallets— approximately 7,700 pounds—of food.
“It’s work that, at the end of the day, I can feel proud of doing,” Fowler said. He found the stability of a career and Eurobake gained a skilled employee.
On-the-job internships, including those at Eurobake, have long been a part of Clark’s baking and pastry arts program. Earlier this year, the partnership between Eurobake and Clark was endorsed by Washington state’s Career Launch initiative, which turns up the heat on students’ meaningful work experience.
“Now, when a student graduates, they could have up to two years of experience, as opposed to just five weeks of an internship,” said Chef Alison Dolder ’12, professor and head of the professional baking and pastry arts program at Clark College.
Gov. Jay Inslee created the statewide Career Launch program to encourage institutions to partner with private businesses to provide students with paid work experience that’s relevant to their education.
Armetta Burney, interim dean of workforce, professional and technical education at Clark, said a Career Launch partnership is a win-win- win. Businesses like Eurobake find interested, qualified workers. Students get paid while gaining meaningful work experience. And Clark College unlocks additional funding for employees and equipment.
“We have been very strategic about expanding Career Launch opportunities that will connect our students to paid work experience,” Burney said. “And it gives us an opportunity to diversify our funding streams.”
Clark’s mechatronics program was the first to participate in Career Launch, partnering with Vancouver manufacturer SEH-America. That company had long worked with Clark to help train workers needed to keep up with a fast- growing industry.
“That partnership was established before Career Launch came to be,” Burney said. “So, when Career Launch started, we went through the endorsement process, and it opened the door for us to apply for these (employee) dollars and equipment dollars.”
Today, Clark has 10 more academic programs with a Career Launch endorsement. Burney said she’s looking to further expand Career Launch by working with additional industry partners.
Because mechatronics and Clark’s two automotive programs were the first to get the official Career Launch certification, they were also the first to bring in state funds. According to Burney, those programs have received over $1.5 million from the state’s Career Launch fund so far. With more newly certified programs, the college expects to bring in even more state funding next year.
The money comes at a time when Clark needs additional funding. State allocations to community colleges are on the decline. Enrollment numbers went down during the pandemic, though they have rebounded during the fall 2021 quarter. And costs have gone up as the college has had to acquire new technology and supplies to suddenly switch to online learning and add layers of safety to guard against COVID-19 infections as some students have returned to campus this fall.
Burney added that while some Clark students show up with their own networks and connections for finding jobs and internships, not all do. Programs like Career Launch help level the playing field by making sure students who don’t already have industry connections can still find relevant paid experience.
“When we can connect students to these paid work experience opportunities, I think it opens up a new world for our students that complements what they’re learning in the classroom,” Burney said.
Here’s how it works: The college and an industry partner work together to apply for the Career Launch credential from the state. It only takes one industry partner for a program to obtain Career Launch certification. But many programs, including Dolder’s baking and pastry arts program, are interested in more.
“The more you have, the better variety of choices you can offer your students,” Dolder said.
Now, Dolder is figuring out how to spend the funds her program will receive from Career Launch—money for additional employees and new equipment. Dolder hopes to hire Chef Sonia Schell, who currently teaches baking part time at Clark, full time. She’s also hoping to buy a new 7-foot-tall hearth oven, for baking artisan breads and pizzas.
Svenhard, the Eurobake VP, said the partnership with Clark has been a boon to the bakery.
“For me, there’s nothing better,” Svenhard said of watching someone like Fowler fit in at Eurobake. “I’m happy to be a participant in helping my industry.”
Svenhard, who has served on the advisory committee for Clark’s baking and pastry arts program, said he’s proud to help Clark College and its students. He wishes the Career Launch certification offered financial help for the industry partners the way it does for educational institutions. He’d like to open a nonprofit baking facility in Vancouver, for example, and he wishes Career Launch offered loans or grants to help make that happen. For now, he takes satisfaction in knowing that Eurobake helped launch Fowler’s new career.
Learn more about the businesses and Clark programs partnering with Career Launch online.
Lily Raff McCaulou is a journalist whose writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic and Rolling Stone. Visit her at www.lilyrm.com