Kathleen McLaughlin
The Bulletin

What: East Cascades Workforce Investment Board, also called East Cascades Works

What it does: Nonprofit organization designated by governor to oversee and support workforce development programs in a 10-county region

Employees: Four

Website: www.eastcascadesworks.org

With unemployment rates near a historic low in Deschutes County, many Central Oregon residents probably don’t realize that federal funding for workforce development is falling.

The East Cascades Workforce Investment Board, the nonprofit organization that handles state and federal funds for training and assisting workers, will see its budget decline 18.75%, from $4.8 million to $3.9 million, on July 1. That’s why the board recently announced a reduction in hours for the WorkSource centers in Madras and Prineville.

Heather Ficht, executive director of the board, also known as East Cascades Works, said the decline in federal funds comes as a huge share of job vacancies go unfilled for long periods of time. And while many people have jobs, they need training to get into careers that pay enough to cover the cost of housing in Central Oregon.

Ficht, 47, has led East Cascades Works since it was created in 2015 to oversee a 10-county region from the Columbia Gorge to Klamath Basin. She started her career as a social worker and became involved in workforce development after running a job training program for young homeless people in the Portland area.

“That was when it clicked for me,” Ficht said. “I do this work because I believe in interrupting generational poverty. I believe that every single one of us has something to contribute and that earning our own paycheck and our own resources gives us a value.”

Ficht spoke with The Bulletin about East Cascades Works. Her comments have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: How does Central Oregon differ from other parts of the East Cascades region?

A: I would say in density, both in population and number of businesses. The way we get our (funding), it’s by county, and it’s heavily based on population.

Deschutes County alone really sways our resources. So when unemployment is at its lowest, we receive the least resource. The challenge is that means there’s lower resource for everyone, even though Crook County and Klamath County have higher unemployment, they don’t have the population density to attract the (funding).

Q: Where else are you looking for money?

A: One of my strategies has been … seeking other philanthropic organizations who have similar goals and co-investing. I sought out a grant from the Central Oregon Health Council for $90,000 over the next three years. We are using that to pay for an allied health careers recruiter at (Central Oregon Community College). Any given day, St. Charles (Health System) has 300 job openings. And COCC has 50 seats open in their (allied health) classes for the last two years.

Q: Your organization has been involved with the software industry’s adult apprenticeship program, Apprenti. Do you foresee other industries following that model?

A: Yes. I think there’s promise in the healthcare sector. There’s some examples at the south coast, where my colleague was able to implement a certified medical assisting apprenticeship program. I’m talking with COCC about that around other areas like certified (surgical technician).

The governor is definitely interested in supporting these next-generation apprenticeships.

— Reporter: 541-617-7860, kmclaughlin@bendbulletin.com