Recent college graduates in dead-end job hunts may find a golden ticket with a new paid internship program that matches them with local industry.
N.C. State University on Wednesday will announce “Backpacks to Briefcases,” a program that helps recent college graduates in Wake and Johnston counties get paid internships that could lead to jobs and careers. It’s funded with a $386,000 grant from the Duke Energy Foundation during the next three years.
Available to unemployed or underemployed college graduates who earned a bachelor’s degree in the past six months to two years, the internships will pay about $4,000 for 10-12 weeks at area businesses.
The internship not only comes with a paid position but a week of preparation in resume writing, job searching and interviewing. Graduates of any four-year college can apply and, if chosen, will attend networking sessions and even practice an “elevator speech” aimed at making connections in the working world.
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Those skills are useful even if the internship doesn’t blossom into a permanent job, said Leslie Rand-Pickett, assistant director in employer relations for NCSU’s Career Development Center.
“For a lifetime you need to know how to be a job seeker,” she said.
Some students don’t get a jump on the job search while they’re in college. Of NCSU’s Class of 2015, Rand-Pickett said, about one-quarter were looking for work at graduation.
“It is quite a transition,” she said. “You go from being a student your whole life, to all of a sudden there’s a whole new set of rules and ways of doing things.”
NCSU already experimented with “Backpacks to Briefcases” in a partnership with the Capital Area Workforce Development Board in 2011-12. Eighty-six college graduates got their foot in the door with internships that year, including Desmond Ford, a 2010 graduate of N.C. A&T State University.
Ford lived with his mother in Raleigh and scanned job listings nightly, while selling men’s clothing at Belk at Crabtree Valley Mall for two years. Applications and interviews went nowhere, despite his best efforts. The story was always the same: He lacked experience.
One night, Ford’s father saw something on the Internet about the internship program. Ford applied and was accepted. By the end of the week of preparation, he had three interviews.
He arrived as an intern at Freudenberg IT in Research Triangle Park, a global provider of information technology services.
Eager and willing to do whatever he was asked, Ford built spreadsheets, gassed up the company trucks or cleaned out storage areas.
“It didn’t matter, I was was just doing anything to please whoever was watching,” he said. His goal was to stay; he liked the atmosphere and the welcoming environment at the company. And the electronics technology and information technology major was working in his chosen field.
The internship was supposed to end in September 2012, but he was asked to stay on for a few more months.
Now Ford, 28, is a support engineer at Freudenberg, where he has gained additional skills and traveled to Germany to work on a special project. He moved into his own apartment in Cary, and he’s got his fingers crossed for a promotion.
The internship, he said, helped set him up for success at a time when he didn’t see a future.
“It was a life-changing experience,” he said. “I was like sitting there like everybody else, like, ‘Man, nobody wants to hire me.’”
The Duke Energy Foundation-funded program at NCSU is part of its $2 million grant for workforce development programs at six UNC system campuses.
The “Backpacks” program is a model that could be replicated around North Carolina and the nation, said Tom White, director of economic development partnership at NCSU.
“This is a palpable way to address the loan indebtedness problem,” he said.
For more information
Orientation sessions will be held soon for recent college graduates who live in Wake and Johnston counties.
See the Capital Area Workforce Board’s website, www.capitalareawdb.com/, or call 919-856-6040. N.C. State’s Career Development Center will post details about the upcoming session once it is scheduled. See careers.ncsu.edu.