A win-win success story for the student and the business
In the spring of 2021, Rachel Parks was in her senior year at Bend High School and unsure of what would happen after graduation. With the help of her instructors at Bend High, Parks began an internship at Collective Pallet, a warehouse and shipping business in Bend. Almost a year later, Parks is still at Collective Pallet—now as a paid employee working in warehouse support. She is also a transition student at the Bend transition co-op.
How did Parks make that leap from intern to employee? According to Dana Black, founder and owner of Collective Pallet, Parks worked hard during her internship to develop the habits and skills that made her a positive addition to the team.
Internships as opportunities to grow
When Parks began her internship it all felt a bit overwhelming. A lot happens in the warehouse: arriving shipments get unpacked onto shelves, other boxes are loaded up and shipped out and many products need to be assembled before shipping. All of it felt new to Parks–the people, the products they worked with, the packing routines. The internship gave her the time she needed to get used to the environment and learn what was expected of her.
“Communication was hard for me when I started. I had a little trouble asking questions about what to do next and how to do things. It just took time to get used to it. Now I’m okay with communicating,” said Parks.
Parks started with small tasks. Her first assignment was packaging bookmarks to be shipped out. Her job has since grown to include a variety of warehouse duties, filling orders to mail out or checking new shipments for damaged goods. Along the way, Parks realized that she enjoys this kind of work and she’s pretty good at it too.
“I like this job because I like to be useful. It feels good,” said Parks.
The win-win of internships from the business perspective
Park’s journey from intern to employee has been rewarding for the Collective Pallet team, as well. “I’m so proud of Rachel and how she has grown over the past year. She has more confidence, even in the way she speaks. It’s been fabulous to see it happen,” said Black.
Each semester, Black invites students with disabilities into her business for internships and work experiences. A group of transition students comes twice each week to experience the business atmosphere and to learn job skills. The Collective Pallet team sets up projects for the students, like simple product assembly, applying labels to packaging or light janitorial work.
“We talk with the teachers, students and job coaches so we know their strengths. Then we give a lot of thought to what projects to prepare for them and how to teach them the steps to do each job the right way for a commercial setting,” said Black.
Because the same students return week after week, they can break down tasks into simple steps and build a routine that students remember. By the end of the quarter students have real skills they can add to a resume.
In addition to the resume skills, students learn the personal habits that will help them be a good employee at any business. One important habit is showing up on time, noted Black. “Students who arrive with the class and are ready to go—those students do so well,” she said.
Another quality that employers appreciate is the ability to listen with an open mind. Listening is not always easy in a new environment, but students who stick with it and listen to all the instructions can often master a skill more quickly. “Listening might also mean that the student has to switch gears and start something new. That’s part of the challenge,” said Black.
Internships and work experiences bring challenges for the business, too. At Collective Pallet, Black and her team invest time in planning and setting up each week’s work experience. They might adapt the project to match strengths and abilities in the groups. And when a student like Rachel Parks shows she is a good fit for the company, they may find that the internship turns into paid employment.
As Black explained, “It’s true that a business might need to carve out some extra time to make this kind of experience happen. But the work is so worth the effort. Helping transition students gain confidence and employable skills so they can someday support themselves—that is fulfilling as an employer and as a person.”