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A program putting Surry and Yadkin students to work

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  • .@surrycc and the four school districts it serves combined forces to help drive economic development in their community. Here's how they did it. #impact58
  • .@SurYadWorks is all about creating mutually beneficial opportunities for students and the businesses that want to employ them. #impact58

Dobson Driver Services started over 30 years ago in Surry County with three trucks. One name change, 205 tractors, and over 500 trailers later, Southland Transportation Company continues to be a thriving business headquartered in this rural North Carolina region.

Southland now has 13 offices in eight different states. The main terminal is in Yadkin County’s Booneville, with two others in Knoxville, TN and Laredo, TX. Over 50% of their business is in brokerage.

Supporting all this growth is an IT team located in downtown Dobson. That team consists of four employees, and two interns — high school students the company found through their partnership with Surry-Yadkin Works. This program is the first youth-based internship and apprenticeship program in North Carolina.

Pharr and Oakes working at Southland thanks to the Surry-Yadkin Works program. Courtesy of Crystal Folger-Hawks

Chandler Pharr, junior at Mount Airy High School, and Tyler Oakes, super senior at Surry Early College, are working at Southland this semester earning high school credit, getting paid, and learning on-site job training skills in an industry that interests them.

Both students are tech-savvy and have a natural inclination for this kind of work. Southland and many other businesses in Yadkin and Surry counties are in need of a skilled labor pool. The missing link was a program to solve a local business problem with a future workforce.

A working relationship between high schools and a community college

In 2020, Surry Community College partnered with the four school districts it serves — Mount Airy City Schools, Surry County Schools, Elkin City Schools and Yadkin County Schools — to kick off what would officially be Surry-Yadkin Works.

For Surry-Yadkin Works, supporting students is synonymous with supporting the economic vitality of their community. The program is all about creating mutually beneficial opportunties for students and the businesses that want to employee them.

Crystal Folger-Hawks is the program director at Surry-Yadkin Works and has worked in education for over 20 years. She has seen a big shift in the high school “sink or swim” model. She said schools used to focus on getting students across the stage with a diploma, and then wish them well.

Now there are more wrap-around services to continue to guide them after graduation. And if those wrap-around services increase a student’s ability to be employed and gives a local business a skilled worker, isn’t that a home run for the community?

For a student to be eligible for Surry-Yadkin Works, they need to be a junior or senior, have at least 12 to 20 hours a week to devote to an internship, and be in good academic standing to apply. The final decision about participation rests with the school’s recommendation.

Julie Hodges, the career development coordinator at North Surry High School, starts talking to students in eighth grade about career exploration. When they become juniors and seniors, she shows them classes offered at Surry Community College, as well as the internships and paid internships of Surry-Yadkin Works.

Internships through the program work on a semester basis. Once accepted, students start in August, January, or the summer. Since the program officially began placing students in the spring cohort of 2021, Surry Yadkin-Works has had 212 internships. In some cases, one student can have multiple internships.

Accepted interns get a $1,000 stipend, regardless if their internship is paid or not. The program recognizes the challenges of a rural county and transportation. This hopefully eases that burden, while also providing an incentive to participate.

Hodges is on the lookout for students who are in danger of not graduating. She knows they need an opportunity that will get them across the stage. They have seen time and time again that these internships work.

“We try to figure out, okay, this student needs this money for their family, they need this support to accomplish something, they need the support to help get their foot in the door somewhere so that when they graduate, they have something that they can look forward to. Because otherwise, a lot of these students would not have any opportunities when they graduate.”

Julie Hodges, the career development coordinator at North Surry High School

Folger-Hawks is the main liaison between businesses and the program, and she works with nine high schools and depends on the school counselors and career development coordinators to identify students for the internship program. When Surry-Yadkin Works began, she had 10 businesses signed up to take on interns. Now the program has 50.

Surry Community College supports Surry-Yadkin Works by training interns in:

  • Human resource development skills (Soft Skills)
  • Public speaking
  • Microsoft Outlook & Excel
  • DiSC Behavioral Assessment
  • Introduction to LEAN manufacturing
  • Personal finance
  • Resume/job Interview/job searching skills
  • OSHA 10-hour training
  • Students will all earn high school credit for their internship experience
  • Industry specific college courses & certifications

Once a student in the Surry-Yadkin Works program graduates from high school, they move from the guiding hands of Folger-Hawks and their school counselors, to Surry Community College’s special staff involved in the program.

Surry Community College has Rachel Hiatt, coordinator of work-based learning and apprenticeship initiatives, and Sable White, an apprenticeship specialists that support the interns. White is the Folger-Hawks on the community college side, doing constant check-ins, looking at schedules, and helping student’s balance a sustainable workload while continuing their education and internship.

Hiatt works with ApprenticeshipNC when local internships want to become official apprenticeships, and don’t yet have a program. She helps build a registered apprenticeship program that will meet the employers needs, provide related instruction from the college, and ensure the student has progressive wage scale.

Funding for the program comes from both Yadkin County and the Surry County Commissioners. Yadkin funds $100,000 and Surry funds $200,000 annually; this is based on population. In 2021, there was an anonymous donation of $100,000.

According to this Economic Impact Study, one out of every 13 jobs in the Surry Community College service area is supported by the activities of the school and its students. The college has a total annual impact of $190.8 million to its community.

The Surry-Yadkin Works program is part of that driving economic formula. Back at Southland, Zack Hardy, director of IT and business process, said he is interested in getting a third intern. Oakes and Pharr have become integral to their growing business, and he finds employing the high schoolers to be great experience. Whatever big project the whole office is participating in, Southland makes sure the interns have a role in it.

Crystal Folger-Hawks of Surry-Yadkin Works with two interns and leaders from Southland. Caroline Parker/EducationNC

Oakes and Pharr both said everyone they work with takes the time to show them new things, giving them opportunities to follow their interests. When Oakes needed to borrow an ethernet cable, his manager Austin Groce said “No, you are going to learn how to build one yourself.”

Groce himself did an internship when he was in high school in Yadkin County and is happy to be working with these interns. He knows how important it was to his career path and wants to be involved.

An example of the ripple effects an internship can have on a student. Surry and Yadkin may soon have many of these.

Caroline Parker

Caroline Parker is the director of rural storytelling and strategy for EducationNC. She covers the stories of rural North Carolina, the arts, STEM education and nutrition.