Unconventional job fair boosts youth diversity in environmental careers
By Thao Nguyen, February 25 2015
Job opportunities, networking, food, music, games. What could be better than that? On Dec. 30, 2014, the Youth Mentoring Collaborative hosted its first Youth Environmental Job Fair & Teen Night at Montavilla Community Center in Southeast Portland. The event attracted a crowd of diverse teens -- 208 total! -- with many bringing along parents, family and friends.
The collaborative's youth ambassadors from various environmental programs, from the Audubon Society of Portland to Metro's Youth Ecology Corps, led ice-breaker games and group discussions, shared their personal experiences, and helped set up and greet guests.
Teens said the event felt very different from most job fairs they had attended. Instead of going from table to table and just picking up information, they were encouraged to step out of their comfort zones to make new friends and professional contacts. The games and group discussions about past experiences and expectations really brought some teens close together.
Attendees represented a wide range of races and ethnicities, and came from a variety of local neighborhoods. To that end, we met our goal of reaching out to a new audience.
The Youth Mentoring Collaborative was formed in 2013 to unite organizations that connect diverse youth to nature and environmental careers. We are a collaborative of more than 50 nonprofits, businesses and government agencies. Together, we leverage our collective resources to elevate the next generation of diverse leaders in natural resources by combining our networking power, sharing best practices, and extending advanced opportunities to interested youth.
Other collaborative members include Mt. Hood Community College's Project YESS, Outdoor School, Trackers Earth, Saturday Academy, Oregon Zoo's ZAP teen program, the OSU Extension Service, Portland Parks & Recreation, ROSE Community Development and many more.
We planned the Youth Environmental Job Fair & Teen night to accomplish three major goals: 1.) Make spring recruitment for our employment programs more efficient, 2.) Get feedback from youth to guide the collaborative’ s future work and 3.) Bring together youth leaders ("ambassadors") from our programs and celebrate their accomplishments.
Youth members made presentations at the fair geared toward discovering emerging environmental leaders from diverse backgrounds. Each offered opportunities to help youth develop the professionalism, communication and leadership skills that will prove useful in every area of their lives.
My own affiliation is with Portland Park & Recreation's GRUNT program, which I graduated from in 2011. I have been working in the City Nature department ever since. PP&R is committed to helping youth find the skills and work experience they need to be successful. Over the years, these programs have provided numerous jobs and internships to youth -- like me! -- who are now pursuing college degrees with an environmental emphasis, and are moving into leadership positions with PP&R City Nature. PP&R does not just stop at providing jobs; it also include long-term mentoring, internships and skills training.
We feel that the job fair was a huge success. Along with the networking experience, job opportunities and job applications, there was plenty of fun stuff like pizza, pastries, fruit, basketball games, even raffle tickets. Cool give-aways included jackets, pants, water bottles, t-shirts and swimming lessons.
But far beyond this, we subtly impacted many youths’ lives and futures.