UNC aims to connect young people of opportunity to paid jobs

UNC-Chapel Hill announced in March a two-year statewide initiative, called “Our State, Our Work,” to connect young adults to paid employment opportunities in North Carolina.

On June 1, the initiative, which is part of Carolina through 100, announced the selection of 13 groups in 37 counties. The groups — made up of business, civic, educational, nonprofit, faith-based, and government entities — will receive a variety of support from UNC.

“The University looks forward to strengthening partnerships and creating new opportunities for members of our workforce,” Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz said of the initiative. “As our state addresses the inequalities created and exacerbated by COVID-19, Carolina Across 100 will connect young people with educational and gainful employment opportunities in North Carolina by bringing together community leaders from across the State to collaborate and reinforce each other.

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Potential supports include guided listening sessions with young people, technical assistance for employers, program management support, and information on funding opportunities and grant writing. Other supports include:

  • evidence-based programs to meet the educational and non-academic needs of youth of opportunity
  • vocational guidance
  • high-demand micro-certificate training
  • marketing expertise for existing programs
  • storytelling techniques to share the experiences and triumphs of young people of opportunity

Application for the program opened on March 16 and closed at the end of April. Find out more about the 13 teams selected here.

The 37 counties are divided into 13 teams that will identify young people who could benefit from the program. Screenshot from the Carolina Across 100 website

Youth Opportunity

The program focuses on “youth of opportunity,” or people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are not working or in school. According myFutureNC and Carolina demographics, an estimated 11% of young people are offline in the state. Experts expect that number to rise due to the pandemic. The 13 teams selected for the program support the regions with 57,900 young people of opportunity, according to the program website.

“In their applications and interviews, communities expressed great excitement about the resources Carolina Across 100 will bring to strengthen their work,” said Anita Brown-Graham, ncIMPACT Initiative Director and Carolina Across 100 Senior Coordinator.” Our goal was to reach 20 counties, so we are delighted that 37 counties have clearly expressed their commitment to partner with us for this first program aimed at connecting young adults to educational opportunities and gainful employment.

Our State, Our Work will employ strategies used by the NC Community College System to connect young adults to community jobs. In March, UNC leaders said the new program would collaborate with work done by community colleges, rather than compete with it. UNC will partner with local school systems, community colleges, recruiting agencies, and nonprofit organizations. Durham Technical Community College hosted the announcement, where President JB Buxton voiced his support for the initiative.

“Durham Tech was delighted to welcome this announcement by UNC and ncIMPACT,” Buxton tweeted in March. “Thank you Kevin Guskiewicz for your leadership and Carolina’s commitment. By working together, we can connect many more people to opportunity and economic mobility.”

The program will use partnerships with Google and Microsoft to prepare participants for jobs in IT, Brown-Graham told WUNC. She is also open to hearing young people talk about other possible paths.

“The reality is that we have to meet these young people where they are,” she said. “And I suspect that as this program takes shape, we will hear about aspirations that we did not anticipate.”

The 13 teams will meet for a kickoff in mid-June, and the first forum of the two-year program will take place at UNC in mid-September, according to UNC.

Our State, Our work joins myFutureNC’s Opportunity Youth Network, launched in 2021, with the goal of re-engaging and preventing disconnected youth across the state.

Hannah McClellan

Hannah McClellan is an EducationNC reporter covering community colleges, post-secondary access, and faith.

Michael A. Bynum