Over a coffee meeting to introduce myself to the CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Bend last winter, a casual conversation led to brainstorming what would become a nine-week summer pilot project called Workforce Wednesday.
As the director of Workforce Development for Visit Central Oregon, one of my focus areas is working to cultivate the region’s talent pipeline. A challenge that goes hand-in-hand with this is the misperception that tourism jobs are low-pay, high-churn roles that aren’t viable career paths. So, you can imagine the excitement when presented with an opportunity to help young people understand this is not the case.
#WorkforceWednesday is a program geared toward middle school-aged youth that gives them opportunities to learn about career paths in the tourism industry. For Visit Central Oregon the goal of this project was to work with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Bend to design field trips to tourism-related businesses that would be fun, educational, hands-on and memorable. We wanted the experiences to be unexpected — to highlight diverse careers that would spark interest.
I’m sure the first thing some might think is: Why middle-schoolers? Admittedly, this age group is largely not of a legal age to enter the workforce. But they are the prime age to inspire. As an emerging workforce, this cohort can develop an understanding of how their passions and interests can lead to jobs and career paths they’d never considered. This inspiration can stay with them as they continue through school, think about their first summer job, and make decisions about college and beyond.
The program included a trip to Drake Park with the Visit Bend team to learn about digital marketing and the economic value of tourism. The kids got to participate in a photo shoot — everything from style and layout, to finding the perfect shot and posting an Instagram reel.
Next up was a trip to Humm Kombucha to learn all about the art of brewing craft beverages (that they are old enough to drink!). Kids witnessed everything that goes into the kombucha-making process and got to help create their own signature batch.
The following week, the group met with Cog Wild, which gave participants an overview of tour operator/outfitter business operations, and the importance of developing and maintaining local trail systems, followed by a mountain bike ride.
From there, the kids met with REI, Saxon’s Fine Jewelers, The Stacks Art Studios & Gallery, and Regal Cinemas in the Old Mill District to learn about high-volume business operations in one of the most popular shopping areas in Bend.
Last but not least, the students made their way to Santiam Snolab, where they were immersed in the business operations of a local maker, and got to collaboratively design and build their own custom snowboard and set of downhill skis.
"Programs like this are a tangible way to start educating and inspiring future workforce that will be critical to sustaining a thriving tourism industry."
Bess Goggins, the CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Bend observed incredible engagement from the kids — as the summer went on, the kids’ genuine curiosity and interest increased exponentially. Kids that would have otherwise stayed home were opting into the program to participate. One parent noted that their child “did so many fun things that we would never have been able to do at home” and that they had “one of the best summers to date and came home every week with a positive experience to share.”
The program was such an incredible success that there are conversations to expand it into the school year across other industries and sectors. Talks are also underway to continue the #WorkforceWednesday program next summer with a hospitality and tourism lens once more.
I especially love the #WorkforceWednesday program because it is something that other destinations can replicate.
Workforce development can be daunting — but programs like this are a tangible way to start educating and inspiring future workforce that will be critical to sustaining a thriving tourism industry. | Jaime Eder
This guest blog was submitted by Jaime Eder, Director, Workforce Development and Community Engagement for Visit Central Oregon, and originally published in The Bend Bulletin.