The Wilmington Chamber Foundation will expand its career development program to more New Hanover County middle schoolers, with $2.8 million included in the new state budget.
The chamber funding is part of the delayed state budget that passed the legislature Sept. 22 and is expected to become law on Tuesday.
The chamber’s Career and Leadership Development Academy (CLDA) began last school year with 43 New Hanover County seventh graders. This year, the project includes 88 students. Next year, all seventh graders wanting to participate will be able to join the initiative thanks to the state funding, said chamber president and CEO Natalie English.
The program is an effort to develop a younger workforce in the region, English said. The chamber initiative intends to help middle schoolers learn about a range of career opportunities.
One day each month, participating students explore several of Wilmington’s industries that are categorized as high growth, based on New Hanover County’s 2022 Economic Mobility Report. The highlighted industries include hospitality, aircraft manufacturing, fintech, health care, film, logistics and distribution.
The Economic Mobility Report also pointed to economic limitations in the county, such as difficulty recruiting and maintaining younger workers and engineers and an aging population.
The goal is to retain talent in the county and create more jobs, English said. The extra $2.8 million in funding will allow the program to be offered to the entirety of New Hanover County’s seventh grade next school year.
It’s a daunting task to figure out how to scale the project to a much larger group of students, she said.
In a separate effort to bolster the region’s workforce, on Sep. 26, the chamber announced the appointment of Steven Hill, who until recently served as executive director of the Greater Topsail Area Chamber of Commerce and previously was the Pender County Schools superintendent, as regional talent pipeline manager focusing on health care in Southeastern North Carolina.
The position is a new one, according to a news release from the chamber, and the appointment resulted from a collaboration between the Wilmington chamber, the NC Chamber Foundation, the N.C. Area Health Education Centers (NC AHEC) and the South East Area Health Education Center, officials said.
Hill is expected to help lead a group of health care employers in identifying critical needs for job positions in the area’s health care industry. The group will assess the scale of the need for certain positions, then work with local community colleges and University of North Carolina Wilmington to find people to fill those jobs, English said.
The focus the health care workers comes from the NC Chamber Foundation and NC AHEC, which are leading a statewide initiative to grow the state’s health care workforce, she said. Wilmington’s chamber is the base for the initative's pilot program; three more areas in the state are slated to join the initiative later this year.
As the region’s talent pipeline manager, Hill will attend the chamber’s annual talent and workforce event on Oct. 25. The Anchoring Talent on the Career Coast event will include sharing information found from a workforce study of area employers in the community that took place in June, July and early August, said the chamber’s chief marketing and engagement officer Megan Mullins. This survey has not taken place since before the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.
Both programs -- the adult workforce recruitment event and the CLDA program for those who have yet to enter the workforce -- are to encourage community members to see Wilmington as a place to build a career, English said, "to potentially get their families on a different trajectory than their parents had."