‘Our State, Our Work’ program helps young people across the state find gainful employment post-pandemic

Lifting of COVID-19 restrictions does not mean that the effects of the pandemic have dissipated, especially for young adults looking for work.

“Our State, Our Work” — a two-year Carolina Across 100 program that helps North Carolina youth find gainful employment — offers a solution.

Carolina Across 100 is a five-year initiative to help North Carolina’s 100 counties grow and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. “Our State, Our Work” is the first program of this larger initiative.

Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz launched the Carolina Across 100 in March 2021. Anita Brown-Graham, Director of ncIMPACT Initiative, and her team lead the Carolina Across 100. The ncIMPACT Initiative coordinates the initiative.

The Carolina Across 100 initiative announced June 1 that it had selected 13 teams representing 37 North Carolina counties to work to expand education and employment pathways for young adults as part of “Our state, our work”.

The program aims to help young people in opportunity, that is to say people aged 16 to 24 who do not work or attend school.

The national unemployment rate for this age group nearly tripled from spring 2019 to spring 2020, according to a 2020 report by the Institute for Economic Policy.

Even before the pandemic, Carolina Across 100 noted that youth with opportunity had a higher percentage of people living in poverty than youth without opportunity in 2019.

“I think we know that remote learning has presented some challenges – being disconnected from the real school setting, i.e. going to schools, has made it more difficult to stay in touch with some of our young people” , Paula Benson, community leader in Wilson County for “Our State, Our Work,” said.

The 13 teams will meet in mid-June and hold their first forum at UNC in mid-September.

Throughout the program, the 13 teams will meet in forums to discuss and learn with other communities, gather resources and visit participating counties to facilitate program implementation.

Benson said she hopes “Our State, Our Work” will provide young people with opportunities to strengthen the state’s workforce.

“We are fortunate to have very strong relationships in the Wilson community. And many of those relationships are demonstrated by the partnerships that already exist between the private and public sectors,” Benson said.

Jess Dorrance, senior coordinator of the Our State, Our Work program, said she was thrilled to see UNC impacting youth and serving the state.

Dorrance added that the program will make existing career development programs more visible so more people can use them. It will also provide opportunities such as certifications from Microsoft and Google.

Brown-Graham said the program is very committed to North Carolina and its history.

“So in many ways this program, for me, reflects a multi-generational DNA for UNC-Chapel Hill,” she said. “I think at every moment of crisis in our state, whether it’s post civil war, post world war, I can look for ways in which the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill has come together to support the state in his recovery.”

Brown-Graham added that COVID-19 has made it clear that some infrastructure isn’t as strong as it looks. She hopes that the “Our State, Our Work” program will create a sustainable system and allow young adults to find gainful employment.

“I was blown away by the response from UNC-Chapel Hill students to this work — I expected a lot of support, but I didn’t expect so much support,” Brown-Graham said.

To learn more about “Our State, Our Work” and to see if your county is one of them, visit the Carolina Across 100 website.

university@dailytarheel.com

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article is misspelled Anita Brown Graham‘s name on the second reference. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error.

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Michael A. Bynum