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UNC joins N.C. efforts to connect ‘opportunity youth’ with living wage jobs

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

On June 1, the initiative, which is part of Carolina Across 100, announced the selection of 13 groups across 37 counties. The groups – made up of business, civic, education, nonprofit, faith-based, and government entities – will receive a variety of supports from UNC.

“The University is eager to enhance partnerships and create new opportunities for members of our workforce,” Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz said of the initiative. “As our state addresses inequities created and exacerbated by COVID-19, Carolina Across 100 will connect young people with education and living-wage employment opportunities in North Carolina by bringing community leaders from across the state together to collaborate and bolster one another’s work.”

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

  • evidence-based programming aimed at meeting educational and non-academic needs of opportunity youth
  • career counseling 
  • high-demand micro-credential training  
  • marketing expertise for existing programs 
  • storytelling techniques to share the experiences and triumphs of opportunity youth

The application for the program opened March 16 and closed at the end of April. Read more about the 13 teams selected here.

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

Opportunity youth

The program focuses on “opportunity youth,” or individuals ages 16-24 who aren’t working or in school. According to myFutureNC and Carolina Demography, an estimated 11% of youth are disconnected in the state. Experts expect that number to increase due to the pandemic. The 13 teams selected for the program support regions with 57,900 opportunity youth, according to the program’s website.

“In their applications and interviews, communities expressed great enthusiasm about the resources Carolina Across 100 will bring to strengthen their work,” said Anita Brown-Graham, director of the ncIMPACT Initiative and lead coordinator for Carolina Across 100. “Our goal was to reach 20 counties, so we are thrilled that 37 counties made clear their commitment to partner with us for this first program to connect young adults to educational opportunities and living-wage employment.”

Our State, Our Work will employ strategies used by the N.C. Community College System to connect young adults to community jobs. In March, UNC leaders said the new program will collaborate with work done by community colleges, rather than compete with it. UNC will partner with local school systems, community colleges, workforce agencies, and nonprofits. Durham Technical Community College hosted the announcement, where President J.B. Buxton expressed his support of the initiative.

“Durham Tech was pleased to host this announcement by UNC and ncIMPACT,” Buxton tweeted in March. “Thanks Kevin Guskiewicz for your leadership and Carolina’s engagement. 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 fields, Brown-Graham told WUNC. She’s open to hearing from youth about other potential pathways, too.

“The reality is, we’ve got to meet these young people where they are,” she said. “And I suspect as this program continues to take shape, we’ll hear from them about aspirations that we have not anticipated.”

The 13 teams will meet for a kick-off 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, in seeking to reengage and prevent disconnected youth across the state.

Hannah McClellan

Hannah McClellan is an EducationNC reporter covering community colleges, postsecondary access and faith.