Oregon’s unemployment rate continues to drop, and that’s good news: Last week, economists reported that the jobless rate in the state had fallen to 6.7 percent, its lowest level since August 2008.

But certain segments of the work force continue to have problems making inroads into the job market, including teenage and younger workers trying to find that first job and who sometimes find themselves competing against applicants with considerably more experience.

And younger workers who fall behind right at the start may well find themselves struggling to catch up for the rest of their working lives. To make matters worse, those younger workers sometimes enter the work force burdened by hefty college loans. It’s hard to pay off those loans when you don’t have a job – or are working at a part-time job at minimum wage.

That’s why it was encouraging to read this week about a cooperative effort between the Lebanon School District, the Community Services Consortium and the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Greater Santiam. The entities have teamed up to create a program called T3, which stands for Training Teens for Tomorrow.

The program targets at-risk students – students who pose a substantial risk of dropping out. Those students are given an opportunity to attend the Lebanon High School Alternative Ed Center, which is located at the Boys & Girls Clubs’ Teen Center in Lebanon. The 33 students enrolled in the program attend classes, which are primarily Internet-based, from 8 a.m. to noon and can work at their own pace.

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The morning work is important: Some of the students are working toward their GEDs, while others have expressed interest in earning college credit. But it’s the afternoon work that makes this program stand out.

In the afternoon, the students either volunteer at local businesses or go to work at various job sites. After the students complete 60 hours of volunteer work, they become eligible to receive $6 per hour as a training stipend for up to 120 hours of work experience.

It’s experience that can provide that all-important first step onto the job ladder.

The program is modeled after a pilot program that’s being run at the Boys & Girls Clubs in Corvallis and Salem; it’s been gratifying to watch mid-valley Boys & Girls Clubs in the mid-valley emerge as leaders in trying to find innovative ways to help young men and women attain the tools they need for long-range success in the workplace.

We’ll need plenty of other innovative ideas – not just to help students and other young people land their first jobs but also to push the dial higher on our 40-40-20 educational goals in Oregon. You’ll recall that one of those goals calls for every adult Oregonian to have a high school diploma or its equivalent by 2025, just 10 years from now. This program in Lebanon, and its counterparts throughout the mid-valley, represents a good step forward. (mm)

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Mike McInally is editor of the Albany Democrat-Herald and the Corvallis Gazette-Times. He can be reached at 541-905-4282.