While the 7.1 percent unemployment rate in Wilson County is widely known, the people who make up that statistic and what keeps them from a paycheck are common knowledge to a much lesser degree.
Graduates of the inaugural Impact Initiative class researched unemployment and underemployment by interviewing Wilsonians who fall into those categories, then presented their findings Thursday at the Wilson 20/20 Community Vision annual meeting. Class members spent three months interviewing 116 people at local resource centers. They said 76.3 percent of the respondents’ education was limited to a high school diploma or a GED, but the most common barriers were reliable transportation and affordable child care followed by job skills.
“We went into this thinking the information we’d find would be (barriers) based on criminal backgrounds and substance abuse, but communication, transportation and child care far outweighed them,” said Tracy Wellington, an employee at Chick-Fil-A and a graduate of the Impact Initiative. “I think we have our work cut out for us.”
The keynote speakers at the annual meeting, Ben David and Kip Blakely, spoke from their experience in Wilmington and Greensboro respectively in terms of programs they were a part of implementing to address workforce development.
David, the district attorney in New Hanover and Pender counties, acknowledged the multi-faceted cause of poverty and crime, noting they found only four dads for 253 kids in 87 homes in their target area of Wilmington.
“You’ve got that in Wilson. I promise you,” he said. “We can talk about all these other people coming together, but let’s admit it, it really starts at the family and the breakdown of the family is at the core of a lot of what we’re talking about.”
For Phoenix Hometown Hires, representatives from government work with people from the nonprofit sector, the faith community, schools and businesses to address barriers to employment and get people to work with careers, not just jobs. And once a chronic unemployed man with a mark on his criminal record from a teenage transgression or a single mom supporting three kids has a steady paycheck, the ripple effect makes a tangible impact on the community at large.
“What I’m absolutely convinced of is that doing this means you can matter to one person and then another one and another one and another one after that,” David said. “And that to me, is the ultimate ripple effect.”
Blakely shared his experience with improving the academic pipeline to fill jobs at the various aviation companies in the Triad area with the creation of a magnet program with hands-on training within a High Point high school. Prior to the implementation of the aviation curriculum, he noted that many of the job vacancies were filled with students from the community colleges, but noted that despite the college training, the employees took about two years within the companies to be proficient. The high school program — with six aviation-themed tracks ranging from airport management to engineering — includes an internship and college classes, so that seven months after high school graduation is all it takes for students to get certified and two months later, they are proficient employees with careers.
“The real secret sauce is 40 percent of the participants are African-American males, which is equal to about the unemployment rate for young African-American males,” Blakely said. “This is changing our community.”
He said collaboration is the key to success.
“What really made the difference for us was when industry got involved and really got to the table, we got government involved and then we had all the academics at the table,” he said. “All three of those are on a really different rhythm, they have a really different calendar and they speak different languages, but all three of them sat there, willing to work for change and collaboration. If you do that, you can be wildly successful.”
Wilson County Schools Superintendent Lane Mills updated the group on the local collaborative effort that allowed the Wilson Academy of Applied Technology to open its doors in August. Some changes, including three new curriculums that have been developed, are underway as the school is adapted to best serve Wilson.
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