Christmas is going to be a lot brighter this year for Gwen Covington and her three children thanks to an employment program organized by the Laurinburg/Scotland County Area Chamber of Commerce and Richmond Community College.
Called “Generation YZ,” the program is made possible by a $75,000 grant from the North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center.
Created to arm 18-30 year old Scotland County residents like Covington with the skills needed to compete in a competitive job market, the program allows participants to complete two rounds of career readiness testing and classes administered by RCC.
Hired to work at Scotland Inn thanks to the program, Covington said at a program press conference this week that she feels like she finally has a chance.
“Now I know that if one of my children asks me for something, I can get it for them.”
There are currently 28 participants in the program. Each has increased their initial scores on the Career Readiness Certification test.
Of the participants, two have been hired full time by The Scotland Inn, one by Precision Contractors and one by Scotland Health Care — all on a full-time basis. The city of Laurinburg has extended three job offers to program participants for full-time positions and the Scotland County Department of Social Services has hired seven participants for part-time work.
Also hired to work at Scotland Inn, Patrice Harris said that the program has increased her confidence.
“And I feel like if I did not come in here and fill out this application (for the Generation YZ) program, I would not have a job right now.”
The RCC training teaches participants what to expect on an interview, how to become more employable, about economic literacy and develops their general work skills.
RCC Workforce and Economic Development VP Steve Smith said that the program can be called nothing other than a success.
“People have actually gotten jobs,” said Smith, who also praised the role of RCC’s Robbie Taylor, the man responsible for orchestrating much of the program, which will remain at RCC apart from the Generation YZ program as a workforce training tool.
“(Taylor) created a great program to fit the needs of the grant, and then he’s created a program to use in the community, that now can help anybody unemployed,” said Chamber President Tonia Stephenson.
The program workers are not the only beneficiaries of the arrangement. Participating employers say that the program has provided some of the best applicants they have interviewed.
12 local employers agreed to interview and possibly hire program participants.
“We have hired two people and we are glowingly happy,” said Scotland Inn owner Ron Riggins. Having sifted through hundreds of applications in the past several months, Riggins said that the seven Generation YZ applicants he interviewed stood out. “We could have hired any one of them,” Riggins said.
Having hired one full time employee, Andy Foshay of Precision Contractors said that he believes the program will pave the way for similar efforts in the future.
“I see a real bright future for this type of program. We have already hired one person, and after the first of the year we may hire more,” Foshay said.
Generation YZ also includes a mentoring element which sees participants mentored by fellow 18-30 year olds currently employed with participating businesses.
Mentors assist applicants by answering questions, conducting mock interviews and generally lending support.
Being part of the first ever class to go through the program has been part of the appeal for participant Maggie Clark.
“To be the first to do this is kind of exciting — seeing the change that (the program) will be making,” Clark said. “And it has helped me a lot.”
The final goal of the grant is to assist at least 35 young adults in finding employment by the end date of Dec. 31, 2013.
“With this program, I know that if I don’t get the job I’m applying for, I’ll have the confidence to go somewhere else and get another one,” said participant Arquette McDowell.
Chamber Chair Becca Hughes said that the Generation YZ program is an example of what can be done in the community when partnerships and teamwork are prioritized.
“We have got to continue to partner up like this and things will continue to improve,” Hughes said.
A new session of the program will begin in February and applications are currently being accepted.
Dee Hammond, the program’s grant coordinator, said 33 applications have been recieved so far.The program runs until December 2013.
“This program has taught these young people what they need to be employed,” Hammond said. “The employers said there were some of the ebst job interviews that they have had. So we think it is great program for the young people and those looking for employees.”
Those interested in becoming partners, mentors or participants are invited to call 276-7420.