Editor’s note: This feature is part of a series recapping the 2022 Emerging Issues Forum with the Institute for Emerging Issues. The 2023 Emerging Issues Forum will take place on Monday, February 13, 2023, at the NC State University McKimmon Center in Raleigh. This year’s forum will examine ways to address NC’s labor shortage by putting the needs of workers first and overcoming barriers to employment. Go here to learn more.
Showing students and teachers all the possible job opportunities and forging connections and relationships is a crucial part of a good workforce pipeline. That’s the role Wilson Education Partnership (WEP) plays, connecting students and teachers at Wilson County Public Schools (WCPS) to opportunities in the community.
WEP was founded more than 30 years ago by Wilson’s business leaders as a way to build a workforce pipeline from the public school system. But in the last few years, WEP has reinvented itself in alignment with WCPS goals. Each year, WEP looks for programs and initiatives that will most benefit the students, teachers, and business community in Wilson.
Generally, that means creating partnerships between schools and the business community so that students know about the opportunities available to them and businesses get a head start on finding their future workforce. The Career Connections Program gets students and businesses in front of each other through a number of avenues, like a speaker base of local professionals, job and career fairs, and facility tours for students and teachers to observe and learn more about local businesses.
“I still hear from those teachers,” said WEP Executive Director Robin Williams. “They had no idea those businesses were in Wilson. They had no idea those certain careers were there. So they were able to bring that back and create a workplace learning opportunity for students in the classroom.”
Some of the initiatives are even more hands-on, with students gaining real experience in the fields they’re interested in. The Career Health Connections program gives students interested in a career in health sciences a chance to receive relevant training in topics like Narcan administration and labor and delivery, plus on-site learning at Wilson Medical Center and Carolina Family Health Centers.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, when in-person gatherings weren’t an option, WEP started a video series called “Learning from the Locals” that features a diverse group of working professionals in fields like agriculture, manufacturing, and education talking about their career journeys. These short videos will live in a database in the school system so that students can watch them anytime.
“We are trying to communicate a lot of what’s already out there in different ways,” said Williams. “That’s what our whole purpose is — giving students more engaging opportunities, building more partnerships, and getting more students in front of some of these people that can help them decide what route to take.”
Wilson Education Partnership is one of five community-based organizations chosen by IEI as part of the 2022 Emerging Issues Forum on educational attainment in NC.