Durham YouthWork interns gain valuable work exposure

September 5, 2017

By Rebecca Andrews, YouthWork Intern

Read about intern Victor Chi’s internship at McKim & Creed

Two hundred Durham students gathered in a conference room at Durham Technical Community College in mid-July for the first day of training for six-week paid internships in businesses, government agencies and nonprofit organizations across Durham.

The training focused on career-readiness skills, from wearing proper attire and interacting in a professional manner to financial literacy, resume writing, managing time cards and other fundamentals intrinsic to a professional workplace but often not taught.

The goal was to ensure successful on-the-job experiences offered by more than 70 employers participating in the 2017 Durham YouthWork Internship Program, a key component of the education-to-career system being developed by the Made in Durham community partnership.

“We know that exposure to work motivates students to stay in school and seek post-secondary credentials that qualify them for careers, so our goal is to expose as many young people as possible to this important opportunity,” said James Dickens, senior employment coordinator for the City of Durham’s Office of Economic and Workshop Development, who coordinates the program. “We are fortunate to have so many Durham employers willing to step forward to help them gain this valuable experience.”

The 73 host sites for 2017 ranged from Duke University Health System, which hosted 20 interns to small locally owned businesses and nonprofits hosting one or a few.

One such business, Triangle Ecycling, collects, refurbishes and recycles computers and other electronics. It taught interns how to aid in that process, as well as build a computer from scratch.

During the six weeks, interns learned job-specific skills, as well as cross-job, interpersonal skills that come with being in a professional environment, some of the most important skills students can acquire, said Oleg Nepliovev, a supervisor at Triangle Ecycling.

“Technical skills are applicable nearly everywhere but I don’t feel that is the most important skill,” Nepliovev said. “We teach them how to work in a good healthy work environment, having to share a space with other people or, as we sometimes say, how to pretend to be a ‘real adult.'”

The YouthWork program creates a positive feedback loop between the students and their community, in which their success creates further success, employers and interns say. Students benefit by gaining work experiences and connections for future jobs and references. Local businesses and organizations gain a stronger talent pipeline.

Some students get to see the impact of their work immediately. The Hub Farm Stormwater program hosted 10 interns this summer and trained them to install green infrastructure, such as rain gardens, critical area plantings and buffer installations that prevent soil erosion and flooding.

Along with a team of DPS teachers and Durham County Soil and Water employees, the students laid sod and planted rain gardens at several locations around Durham.

Mike Dupree, intern supervisor, said part of the students’ job is to calculate the value of their work, both environmentally and financially.

“It teaches them environmental literacy for a landscape so that, as future homeowners, they know how to collect rainwater to use in their gardens and how to landscape so they use the water instead of redirecting it to their neighbors,” Dupree said. “But it also teaches them business and finance skills. Each of the students has a spreadsheet where they track how much each project costs so they understand exactly the value of the work they are doing for the community.”

Chas Michaels, a junior at Southern High School, worked with Stormwater this summer and is interested in working at a hydroponics plant or a plant nursery after graduation. The skills he learned doing jobs with Soil and Water put him ahead of the curve. However, his favorite part was working with the team.

“I enjoy doing this type of work, working with other people, doing something with my hands,” Michael said. “It’s one of the best feelings in the world, working together and then being able to look back at what we have accomplished.”

YouthWork is a collaborative effort of the City of Durham, Durham County, Durham Public Schools, Durham Technical Community College and Made in Durham. Partners work throughout the year to recruit and prepare students and employers for successful internship experiences. It is a key component the education-to-career system Made in Durham partners are creating to ensure more young people complete high-school, earn a post-secondary credential valued by the marketplace and secure life-sustaining careers by age 25.

For more information on YouthWork or to become an intern host,  contact James Dickens at (919) 560-4965 ext. 15217 or james.dickens@durhamnc.gov, or visit http://durhamnc.gov/598/Durham-Youthwork-Internship-Program.

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Made in Durham is a community partnership of educators, business, government, youth-serving nonprofits and young people mobilized around a shared vision that all of Durham’s youth will complete high school and a post-secondary credential and begin a rewarding career by the age of 25.
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