Augusta’s business and education leaders announced a program Wednesday designed to cultivate a local workforce that’s more competitive and more attractive to incoming industry.
The Students2Work initiative aims to place 250 Richmond County high school students in internships throughout the Augusta area – to both improve the skills they have, and to develop new skills to better prepare them for the working world.
The demand for skilled workers takes on added gravity as the region braces for an expected economic spike spurred by cyber-related businesses.
The program is the result of several months’ work by the Student Workforce Subcommittee of the Business Education Advisory Council, which is a committee within the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce.
Local officials and recent interns in other programs offered testimonials about the importance and urgency of Students2Work during the Chamber’s Member Economic Luncheon at the Augusta Marriott at the Convention Center.
“We find that internships are an integral part of a student’s development,” said Steven Kendrick, Richmond County tax commissioner. “Most times when students are placed with an opportunity in the workplace it advances their learning. Overall it gives them a little snapshot at what their life could be like. A snapshot at life is what we all would have liked to have.”
Richmond County Schools Superintendent Dr. Angela Pringle called the initiative “a grand opportunity” for students to use professional skills they learn in the classroom.
“They’re going to put them into practice, and that’s what I understand our employers need for today and what (students) can do to really enter the workplace work-ready and skilled,” she said.
Students eligible for Students2Work must be at least 16, enrolled in a Richmond County school and pass a drug test and background check.
Guidance counselors, teachers and jobs-skill coaches will then select students using a special scoring rubric.
Makenna Chambers, a graduate of A. R. Johnson Health Science and Engineering Magnet High School, spent part of her summer interning at Georgia Power Co. She will pursue an architecture degree at Kennesaw State University this fall.
“What this internship did, it give me the hands on experience that I needed to basically solidify my (career) decision,” she said. “It’s so different o research something, but then go get hands-on experience. Because now you know, and you can make your own decisions, and that’s what it did for me.”
Student Workforce Committee Chairwoman Fran Forehand, a region vice president for Georgia Power, said 100 businesses already have committed to sponsoring interns. The cost for a business to sponsor an intern is about $2,100.
Before starting the eight-week internships, students will complete weeklong training by local business leaders in employability skills and so-called “soft skills,” the character traits that help forge positive professional relationships with co-workers.
“The research is very clear,” Forehand said. “High-school students who have an opportunity to gain real-world knowledge in a professional work environment during a summer internship will likely emerge with better career, more motivated to continue their education and more aware of employment opportunities that can meet their expectations and future goals.”
It also helps businesses, she said, by developing a pipeline of trained employees for an increasingly demanding workforce.
“You are helping students understand the value of a job and encouraging those students to stay focused. You are giving these students the opportunity to see themselves successful and earning a paycheck,” Forehand said. “And you’re also giving these students the opportunity to explore their own potential, self-esteem and contributions that they may make to your business.”
Reach Joe Hotchkiss at (706) 823-3543 or firstname.lastname@example.org.