With industry need for more skilled workers, Surry County Schools knew one untapped workforce training market was high school students. The Golden LEAF-funded Next Generation College and Career Academy of Surry (now known as Surry-Yadkin Works) built its model on business-driven high school internships focused on career pathways in high demand fields in the area.
In April 2017, the Golden LEAF Board of Directors awarded $254,346.79 through the Community-Based Grants Initiative to Surry County Schools to provide funding to establish a college and career academy to serve 30 Surry County High School students in career pathways targeting advanced manufacturing, health sciences, agriculture, and other in-demand industry employment sectors. Each student in the program would receive access to virtual courses, college and career counseling, and connections to internships and apprenticeships.
“The business partners I have worked with are really serious about building their own workforce,” said Crystal Folger-Hawks, Program Director of Surry-Yadkin Works. “Many of our partner businesses offer our students wages and tuition assistance to finish a two-year degree, on top of our $1,000 internship stipend. The program consists of soft skills training, a DISC personality assessment, guidance and coaching as well as career pathway classes, helping students to be ready for work at the completion of high school or community college.”
Under the Next Generation program 93 students obtained a minimum of 12 credit hours of college credit or an associate degree; 563 industry-recognized/ third-party credentials were earned, 130 students completed a minimum of 100 hours of work experience through internships or other work-based learning, and 93% of the students either obtained employment in field of study within six months or continue training in their field of study. The Next Generation Program began in January 2018 and continued through October 2021 before evolving into the expanded Surry-Yadkin Works.
“The superintendents at the four school systems in Surry County and Yadkin County came together to work on a plan to expand the internship program,” said Folger-Hawks. “Surry and Yadkin County commissioners as well as an anonymous donor made the funding possible for both counties to participate. The expansion of the program is showing how successful this work-based experience is in providing our industries with the talent they need.”
“Efforts put forth by the four school systems and Surry Community College in the Surry-Yadkin Works program will pay long term benefits for both the participating students and our local businesses,” said Bobby Todd, Yadkin County Economic Development Council President and the Executive Director of The Yadkin County Chamber of Commerce. “Working and earning an income while continuing to receive an education in their chosen field proves to the next generation that great employment opportunities are available without leaving the area.”
Folger-Hawks said the program was working so well, she kept the program the same, but added a position to handle the growing number of student and industry participants.
“We kept all of the program components the same,” said Folger-Hawks. “We measure the same data as we did in the original program, but we have added some exciting new aspects such as a pre-apprenticeship for CNAs that has been very successful.”
Members of the community are supportive of this innovative approach to finding the talent to fill employer needs.
“The Surry-Yadkin Works program has been a big asset to our students and local businesses,” said Todd Tucker, President of Surry County Economic Development Partnership. “In today’s workforce development world, you have to work on growing your own, and this program is a great start to that. New and existing companies will find this to be an outstanding resource for their workforce pipeline.”
One of Folger-Hawks earliest success stories was Neal Borad, who went through two information technology (IT) internships through the Next Generation College and Career Academy of Surry while attending Surry Early College High School. His first internship in the spring of 2018 focused on the programming side of IT.
“Signing up to participate in the internship program is probably one of the best decisions I have made,” said Borad. “My first internship was on the software development side, and I quickly knew that was not what I was looking for. When Crystal saw the listing at Workforce Unlimited, she matched my skills and interests to that workforce opportunity.”
In 2018, Borad started at Workforce Unlimited as an IT Support Tech intern as a super senior at Surry Early College High School. When the internship was over, he was hired as level three IT Support Tech. Now, he is the IT Administrator.
Borad said he is grateful his guidance counselor introduced him to the program.
“The learning aspect was important to me because every workplace uses different technologies,” said Borad. “Learning on the job is different than how you learn about a field through courses. With this internship, it definitely helped me gain a job in my career while finishing high school and quickly advance in my field.”
Borad now is a mentor for other interns in the program.
“Having interns reporting to me definitely was a big learning curve,” said Borad. “I liked that I was able to give tips and advice to the interns since I have already gone through the program. It helped me learn about working with a team. One of my goals is to manage an IT Department.”
Borad completed his bachelor’s degree at UNC-Charlotte in December 2021, while working full time at Workforce Unlimited.
“Take advantage of the opportunities you get,” said Borad. “They don’t come around very often. If you are selected to have an internship in a field you are interested in, do it so that you are sure that you like it before you continue your education in that field.”
To learn more about Surry-Yadkin Works, visit https://www.surryyadkinworks.org/.