When Moyaak Chuol was a student at Lindbergh High School in Renton, he heard about a class called Core Plus Aerospace that sounded interesting. While he initially thought the course was about space exploration, once he began excelling in the two-year manufacturing curriculum for high school students, he decided he wanted to make a career at Boeing. Core Plus Aerospace gave him a head start on both skills and opportunity.

Toward the end of that year, Chuol was thrilled when Boeing recruiters visited Lindbergh and invited Core Plus Aerospace students to apply for a full-time, paid summer internship. The program promised opportunities to gain real-world work experience at Boeing’s Renton or Everett facilities, work alongside experienced Boeing trainers, get mentorship and participate in job shadowing. Chuol applied and landed one of the coveted spots. That relationship led to a job offer as a general mechanic when Chuol graduated high school in 2018.

Today, Chuol works full time at Boeing, and the company is paying his tuition as he pursues his bachelor’s degree in engineering. “I eventually want to use [my degree] to be an engineer at Boeing,” he says, “but I also want to be a mentor and work with the new hires.”

How to find the right internship

In Washington state, employers are expected to create an estimated 373,000 net new jobs over the next five years, according to analysis from the Washington Roundtable. Most of those jobs – an estimated 70% – will require or be filled by workers with a post-high school credential, such as a degree, apprenticeship or certificate.

Engaging in a summer internship – as Chuol did – is a useful way for students to test a career path they think might fit their interests and goals. While no central database exists in Washington the collates all internship options, there are several ways students can find opportunities to explore potential careers.

One resource comes from Career Connect Washington, a public-private partnership of business, labor, education and community leaders, which has developed an online directory that enables Washington students to search for career exploration and work-embedded learning experiences by interest and zip code.

In addition to utilizing resources like CCW’s directory, Ryan Phi, an alumnus of Teens in Public Service – a program that places interns with community-based nonprofits throughout King County – says his advice to students is to use their existing networks and keep asking questions. TIPS pays students minimum wage to work 160 hours at a summer internship at a nonprofit. Last summer, Phi interned at the Hunger Intervention Project and this summer he was hired for the role of summer activities coordinator.

Phi learned about TIPS when he attended a Career and Resource Fair organized by Youth Executives of Color, a high school outreach program sponsored by the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business. “[There], I had the opportunity to speak to Gillian Hepola, TIPS’ current program and development manager,” Phi says. “Before I met her, I had never heard of an organization that would allow me to intern with a nonprofit, let alone one that was paid.” After speaking with Hepola, he immediately knew he wanted to apply to TIPS — but without YEOC and the network that organized the event, Phi says he likely never would have heard of TIPS, let alone applied.

“Wherever possible, utilize the relationships that you’ve made to make sure that you’re aware of all the opportunities that are open to you,” says Phi. As examples, he recommends connecting with a mentor to learn about internships in their field or using social media platforms like LinkedIn to interact with professionals. “Be willing to put yourself out there to connect yourself to what you want,” Phi adds.

CCW Executive Director Maud Daudon notes there are great opportunities out there for young people who know they want to explore and are ready and willing to go after it – with new offerings in high-demand fields like health care, information technology and manufacturing. “Looking for an internship in those fields is a viable option right now because employers really want young people to get excited about their industries, especially ones that are new and emerging, like clean tech.”

Chuol says the first step is to think about what you enjoy and where your passions lie. “Target what you like and then look for an internship that aligns with your kinds of passions,” he says. “Once you find that passion, you have to wear it on your sleeve and show that you want to take that initiative,” he says.

Finding paid internship experience

Internships can be a key steppingstone to secure a full-time job. But many students must earn money during the summer, so unpaid internships may not be an option. CCW’s online directory of internship opportunities statewide recognizes this reality. “At the Career Launch level in the directory all work experiences are paid at minimum wage, although it can be more,” says Daudon.

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Chuol says the opportunity to earn while he learned was vital. “I grew up in a really low-income household and I needed to keep making income during the summer,” he says. His paid internship at Boeing allowed him to earn money as he acquired the skills necessary to be an excellent candidate for a full-time job at the company after high school graduation.

“Paid internships provide an essential way for all students to receive the necessary guidance, experiences and perspectives to allow them to see if their professional area of interest is something that they wish to continue pursuing,” says Phi, a first-generation Vietnamese American who experienced unpaid internships as a barrier to participation. “Put simply, paid internships are essential in removing the socioeconomic barriers that face so many students across the United States.”

Partnership for Learning, the education foundation of the Washington Roundtable, brings together business leaders and education partners to improve our state’s education system, so Washington students are ready to pursue the career pathways of their choice. Learn more at credentialessential.com.