Westbury allies give Charlotte ‘workforce experience’

Experience required: Students tech up at the Hygge in Charlotte, NC, during the kickoff of a "workforce experience" program organized by several Long Island businesses.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

A professional alliance assembled at LaunchPad Westbury has joined with the Microsoft Corp. on an ambitious “workforce experience” program. Please do not call it an “internship.”

This experience, which delivers unprecedented technological and on-the-job training to 18 disadvantaged North Carolina youth, starts in the office of Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts, who upon taking her oath in 2015 inherited a longstanding Mayor’s Youth Employment Program.

To evolve the three-decade-old summer program, Roberts’ office decided to incorporate some fresh technology training, and reached out to Microsoft for support. The Washington State-based tech titan, in turn, tapped We Connect the Dots, a Westbury-based, STEAM-powered (for science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) nonprofit working to educate the next generation of big thinkers.

Laurie Carey: Good “Citizen,” says Microsoft.

We Connect the Dots had completed programs in multiple U.S. locations through Microsoft’s Citizenship Team, according to We Connect founder Laurie Carey, and “they know what our capabilities are.”

“These kids will need to be confident when doing job interviews,” Carey told Innovate LI. “And we are uniquely qualified to help give them that confidence.”

To do it, Carey’s company reached out to some new friends, including several connections made since the 2012 startup moved into LaunchPad Westbury in January. Among her first calls: Savvy Hires, a campus-to-corporate recruiting firm dedicated to developing tomorrow’s workforce.

Her 2016 startup was ideally suited to provide “pre-workforce experience training” for the new MYEP, noted Savvy Hires founder Felicia Fleitman, who joined other project partners for a June 30 kickoff session at Hygge, a Charlotte-based co-working space.

“We Connect the Dots is doing a lot of the technical education,” Fleitman noted. “We’re doing more of the ‘how-to-get-it’ training: How to be a good employee, how to get an assignment.

“All of the things you want to ask before you get a job, but make you really nervous.”

The technological training is extensive, according to Carey, including step-by-step walk-throughs of Microsoft Office 365, Skype for Business and WordPress – the latter provided by Dean DeCarlo, founder of digital marketing startup Mission Disrupt, another LaunchPad Westbury cohort.

But the program participants – all underprivileged, high-achieving high schoolers from the Charlotte area – represent Generation Z, the post-Millennial generation that’s “grown up with technology,” Carey noted.

And that built-in techno-sense, she added, not only helps them grasp the software, but presents unique opportunities for the companies participating in the MYEP – all Charlotte-area nonprofits and startups – and those that ultimately hire from this age bracket.

“They’ve never known a world without technology,” Carey said. “To go into a business and say, ‘This can be done easier if you utilize this program or automate that task’ is something they are very capable of doing.

“That’s a real benefit to employers.”

The combined workplace and technological skills emphasized by the Westbury allies are what set the evolved MYEP apart, added Carey, who prefers you not call the multistate, multidiscipline effort an “internship program.”

“This is about giving students an opportunity to see and understand what career opportunities are available and what skills are needed,” she said. “It’s a true workforce experience program. These kids are not running for coffee.”

Underscoring the seriousness of the effort: The 18 positions are paid, with a stipend from the Charlotte mayor’s office funding participants through three weeks of training and five in the field.

Carey said the funding is critical for a program focused on underserved minority students who “might not normally get a chance to do something like this, because they may need to get a summer job.”

“This is a way to offer the same training and skills that are offered to students who could do it without being paid,” she noted.

Felicia Fleitman: Workforce etiquette covers more than manners.

Also adding gravitas are the program requirements themselves. The effort is fairly intensive, starting with instruction on case-study models employed by Harvard University and other top schools.

At the end of the summer program, participants will use that knowledge to create case studies exploring their time at the company – goals, lessons learned, technological solutions suggested and more – including video segments to be posted by We Connect the Dots on Yammer, an enterprise social-networking service.

“The students will engage with their employers on research projects on how the organization functions, how it uses technology and how it might use different types of technology to be more focused on its mission,” Carey said.

Participants will also be blogging as they go on that Yammer channel, and will use their Skype for Business training to engage weekly with Fleitman, who will be monitoring their workplace-skills development from Savvy Hires’ Westbury HQ.

“This is a great way to deliver the workforce-etiquette training and to ensure that learning objectives are being met,” Fleitman said. “For most of these students, this is the first time they’ve been in a professional setting.

“Most business owners look at intern-level hires are think, ‘Get it quickly and get it done, or don’t,’” she added. “Workforce-etiquette training really helps students get it.”

That includes everything from proper mealtime protocols to the difference between observing and participating in a meeting, right up to deciphering a supervisor’s specific communication style.

“We’ll discuss how to best identify a boss’ communications style and ensure that your assignments are delivered in the style they’re looking for,” Fleitman noted. “This is about all those softs skills that make the difference between a stellar employee and an average employee.”

Long Island rainmakers would be wise to “take note” of the workforce experience program, according to Fleitman – not just the collaboration of several innovative Island businesses, but the message inherent in Charlotte’s decision to modernize a decades-old summer internship program.

While focused in this case on at-risk youths, the workforce experience effort provides a Hiring Generation Z blueprint for today’s business owners, she noted.

“The training provided by We Connect the Dots and Mission Disrupt and the social savvy of Generation Z, combined with the business acumen that Savvy Hires offers, can really benefit a business from a bottom-line perspective,” Fleitman said. “This can make a business more productive and more profitable.

“The public will take a look at those case studies and say, ‘Wow, an intern did that for their business? I want a program like this!’” Fleitman added. “Then Savvy Hires and We Connect the Dots will deliver.”


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