Just over a year ago, Elizabeth Perez felt like everything was going downhill. The 21-year-old single mother was working three jobs and living with her brother.
Since completing a training program at the Norpac paper mill in Longview, she said that feeling has changed.
Norpac and Goodwill of the Olympics and Rainier Region collaborated last year to create a work-based industrial manufacturing training program. The companies announced on Tuesday that all eight interns who participated in the program were hired in their field.
Norpac hired three of the eight interns who completed the program, including Perez. She is now an executive assistant and accountant associate.
“It’s been a great opportunity to work with the CEO of a company,” Perez said. “Not many people can say that.”
Norpac fully funds the six-month program. It is designed to give 18- to 24-year-olds an opportunity to develop manufacturing skills and get jobs. Each intern had 1,000 hours of on-the-job training and got paid $16 per hour.
The internship combines on-the-job training with Goodwill case management services, including life-skills training.
Perez said some of the training from Goodwill included creating a better relationship with her bank, credit forgiveness and money management. She said when she started the program, she was borrowing her brother’s car. Now, she drives a 2017 Buick.
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Perez said she found out about the program through social media. Family wage positions like those at Norpac are hard to come by, she said.
“Mills, those are careers,” Perez said. “It’s not a job you just turn away.”
Despite that, Perez was said she was worried the internship wouldn’t lead to a job.
Norpac CEO Craig Anneberg said he was also apprehensive because paid internships are not the normal way the company hires workers. But, he said, the program lowers risks because managers get a better feel for participants before hiring them full time.
“If you just read a resume, you don’t always know what someone can do,” Anneberg said.
Tori Skinner, business development manager for Goodwill of the Olympics and Rainier Region, said the organization advocated for non-traditional applicants for the internship positions. She said Goodwill received about 60 applicants last year.
The second year of the program is set to begin in September. Skinner said this time the company is expected to take on 14 to 16 interns. They’ve received over 70 applications so far, with the cut-off date on Aug. 17.
Skinner said Goodwill is working out what changes it would like to make for this next group of participants. The organization is evaluating which participants have been successful, she said. They’re working to make sure everyone is successful, Skinner said.
“We know the bones are there, now let’s fill it out,” Skinner said.
Goodwill is also working to broaden its outreach when advertising the program, Skinner said. Last year, the program relied on social media, and this year managers are reaching out to organizations in contact with 18- to 24-year-olds, she said. Over the next few years, Goodwill will track where participants hear about the program to get more information about their backgrounds, Skinner said.
Perez said from the Goodwill training to everything she did at Norpac, it was all a learning experience. She said everyone welcomed her to the job with open arms.
“They’re there to help you thrive, and that’s what I’m doing right now,” Perez said.