Agencies Pilot New Program to Connect New Graduates to Local Industry | Local News

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Jason Koon Screenwriter

Several Burke County agencies came together this summer to tackle the county’s “opportunity for youth” issue.

Youth of opportunity are defined as the number of young people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are not working or in school, according to Sarah Crisp, program coordinator for Work in Burke. While the number of young people with opportunities has declined statewide since its peak in 2011, in Burke County, 22.2% of those ages 16-24 still fall into this category compared to 11% nationwide. the state.

“That’s one of the highest numbers in North Carolina,” Crisp said.

To combat this issue, Work in Burke, Burke County Public Schools, The Industrial Commons, and Western Piedmont Community College are collaborating to pilot the Opt-in program.

“It’s called Opt-in, which stands for Opportunity Internship,” Crisp said. “It’s for recently graduated seniors right now, so kids fresh out of high school.”

BCPS Superintendent Mike Swan called the program a “great opportunity” for new graduates who are unsure of their post-graduation plans.

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“For most of our graduates, it’s hard to know at 18 what you want to do in life and how to get there,” he says.

CTE Director Debbie Jennings said this program allows the district to function as “a conduit ‘helping the program’s industry partners’ connect with future high school graduates, bringing them into business and education. local industry, provide them with mentors and help kick-start their careers.

Rick Furse, dean of workforce development at Western Piedmont Community College, said career development counselors visited schools and met face-to-face with high school students to see if they had a plan. after graduation. After the meetings, the program developers targeted students with no plans to be part of the new internship program.

“We sent out invitations — there were about 300 kids that we sent out invitations to,” Furse said.

According to Crisp, nine Burke County companies have partnered with the internship program, all of which are looking for permanent employees. The industrial partners of the program are:

  • Geiger Furniture
  • I Ekornes
  • Meridian Special Yarn Group
  • Leviton
  • Seiren NA
  • Shenandoah Furniture
  • UNC Health
  • Unix packaging
  • Valdais weavers

Furse hopes the Opt-in program will make a difference, not just for young people in the county, but also for local businesses that are struggling to find employees.

“I go out and talk to industries in the area and one of the things I hear all the time is ‘we can’t find people,'” he said. “That’s been a common theme.”

On June 13, the 25 interns involved in this year’s program gathered at the Foothills Higher Education Center for an orientation day. During orientation, participants familiarized themselves with the program and the expectations of the company as well as with the world of work in general. In addition to orientation, Work in Burke will provide all interns with professional development training every Monday, including OSHA-10, CPR and first aid certifications.

According to Crisp, each intern was also assigned a community mentor and “work buddy” to help them learn about their specific workplace.

“The buddy is there to answer all the basic questions like ‘how do I point? ‘” she said.

Crisp said community mentors fulfill a more comprehensive role, helping interns adjust to life with their first professional job.

“The mentor is there to be by their side as they transition into this more professional world,” she said. “It’s someone from the community that Work in Burke has matched them with who is there to support, encourage and advise them when needed – also to connect them to all the resources in the community.”

Crisp said the ultimate goal of the program is to connect recent graduates with permanent employment available in Burke County.

“If they impress employers…and do everything they’re supposed to do, they can stick around as permanent, full-time employees,” she said. “This will not only give them a permanent job, but it will also mean a significant salary increase for each of these positions.”

Furse added that participants who complete the internship and go to full-time work will be eligible for free classes at the WPCC.

Program organizers said there is plenty of room for future growth built into the program. This summer, Furse said there was enough space to accommodate 72 recent graduates and he envisions more students being attracted to the program in future years based on the successes of this summer.

“We want to start again next summer and we want these children to be our spokespersons,” he said. “We plan to leverage this summer’s program to make next summer’s program more effective.”

Jason Koon is editor and can be reached at [email protected]

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