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Workforce Development Program Launches In New Hanover County

By Jenny Callison, posted Jan 13, 2016
A federal-local partnership is launching a new career connections program for recent college graduates in New Hanover County.

The program, Backpacks to Briefcases (B2B), is a national employment and leadership program connecting recent college graduates with local businesses. Its aim is to improve area workforce development through paid internships at no cost to either the participant or business.

Locally, the program is funded through the Workforce Investment Opportunity Act and operates through New Hanover County Workforce Development Center on a contract with Michigan-based Educational Data Systems Inc. (EDSI), according to B2B program specialist Brendan Heffernan.

Program participants – who must have graduated with a bachelor’s degree within the past six to 24 months – are placed in short-term internships at participating companies in the area. B2B programs in other locations report that these internships often lead to permanent, relevant employment opportunities for the recent graduates.

In addition to the stipulation that they must have earned their bachelor’s degree within the past two years, participants in the local program must be a current New Hanover County resident, be unemployed or underemployed in their desired career field and must attend a career readiness seminar this week at University of North Carolina Wilmington.

Although UNCW is B2B’s local training partner, program participants need not be UNCW alumni, Heffernan said Wednesday.

Funds from the federal Workforce Investment Opportunity Act pay the internship stipends, he added. Those internships run for three months and involve about 32 hours of work each week, at an hourly rate of $11 to $12 per hour.

At a networking event Jan. 20, program participants will do a “speed dating” session with prospective employers, said Leslie Wright, assistant director of UNCW’s Career Center.

The Career Center is operating this week's career readiness seminar, which focuses on such topics as resume and cover letter writing, presenting oneself to a prospective employer and discussing one's abilities, skills and career goals with that person - who is probably a stranger - and having an understanding of transferable skills that are likely of interest to an employer, Wright said Wednesday.

For instance, she said, if a recent grad is making ends meet by serving in a restaurant or delivering pizzas, it's important for them to identify just what they've learned that would be valuable in a professional position.

"We want to train them on 'No, you weren't just a server. Let's talk about those transferable personal, customer relations, critical thinking and decision making skills," she said.

Although 15 recent grads indicated interest in B2B, only eight met the qualifications and are going through the weeklong seminar, according to Wright. She and others are confident that numbers will grow as word about the program and its benefits gets around.

"This is going to be a recurring [program], so we'll continue to grow our connections and contacts," Heffernan said. "Our goal is to cater the paid interns for the businesses we have. We'll consult ahead of time with participating businesses so we can make that much better a fit."

A primary goal, he added, is benefiting both business and intern, and improving chances of permanent hires and longterm retention by placing interns in companies where they can pursue their career interests. A pilot B2B program in Raleigh had an 80 percent success rate in permanent hires by focusing on good internship matches, Heffernan said.

Click here for more information about New Hanover County's B2B program
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