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Fields of Opportunity 3

High schooler Armando Saldivar Rodriguez worked with cover crop management last summer through the Fields of Opportunity mentorship program.

Troupes of high schoolers will soon take to Napa’s vineyards and wineries again, as a summer program aiming to draw local students into futures in the wine industry returns.

On the heels of its successful debut last year, Fields of Opportunity, then a dual effort between the Napa Valley Grapegrowers and Napa Valley Unified School District, is set to double in size as it expands to two Upvalley high schools for this year’s program.

As was the case last summer, 16 slots are available for students from high schools in Napa, while 16 new openings are being added for the program’s two Upvalley tracts at Calistoga High and St. Helena High.

The success of Fields of Opportunity last year has also spawned an offshoot program geared toward Napa’s other staple industry.

The new program, dubbed ‘Resorting to Opportunity,’ aims to place 12 students in three hotels throughout the valley, offering a cross-section of job opportunities in the hospitality industry here.

Partnering with NVUSD for the program are Meritage Resort, Silverado Resort & Spa and Harvest Inn in St. Helena. As with Fields of Opportunity, the program is set to last eight weeks, students will be paid for the hours they work and learn soft skills from a job coach, who will split time between the two programs. Students will cycle between roles within each hotel, instead of between hotels.

In crafting the program, Stephanie Solberg, vocational specialist with NVUSD, and Amber Cleveland, work-based learning coordinator with NVUSD, reached out to hotels directly. “We didn’t have a Grapegrowers type of organization to partner with for hospitality. It doesn’t really exist in a formal way here in Napa County,” Solberg said.

“So we just decided to kind of go after it because we know our students need it and our employers need it,” she added. “It’s pretty clear on how much growth we have in hotel and hospitality here and there’s just not nearly enough workers. So we went out and got it done.”

Fields of Opportunity, crafted for students on the cusp of graduation and weighing career paths, is at once a glimpse at job options in the world of Napa wine and, organizers hope, a possible answer to the industry’s persistent labor shortage.

“I really feel like we’re onto something big here in providing our students that are not going to a four-year college – which is a majority of our graduates – some real, viable career options after high school,” said Solberg.

The eight-week program takes students through a rotation of four host companies. Students last year worked with Walsh Vineyard Management, Silverado Farming Company, Quintessa winery and Renteria Vineyard Management, taking part in barrel blasting, hospitality and sales, equipment repair and cover crop management. Host companies for this year’s program have yet to be announced.

Working half-day schedules for five days each week, students are paid the real-world wages offered by each company for the jobs they are learning about. The program is open to all students age 16 and older, including those who may be planning on attending a four-year college after graduation.

“The goal was to have multiple different skill levels and personalities to be able to learn from each other, not just what it’s like to work in the wineries or the vineyard management companies, but what’s it like to be in a job,” said Cleveland.

Also new this year, organizers said, will be the addition of a job coach offering a ‘soft skills’ component to the program.

“Because the feedback from employers everywhere is that soft skills just aren’t taught and students don’t really – they don’t know what they don’t know,” Cleveland said. “They’re growing up in a different generation than a lot of our employers did.”

For instance, “A big thing for our students is transportation issues,” she said. “So we thought one component could be navigating the transportation system in Napa, from buses to even Uber to understand all the ways that you can get around.”

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Wine Reporter / Copy Editor

Henry Lutz covers the local wine industry. He has been a reporter and copy editor for the Register since 2016.