Virginia Economic Review: Second Quarter 2022

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Southwest Virginia Job Seekers Get a Leg Up From United Way Program


major IT firm sees an emerging need for young employees with the right skill sets. Schools, in turn, are filled with students who would need such jobs within a few short years. Through a United Way initiative, the various entities are linked. Fledgling workers find a way to get a foot in the proverbial door, while the employer gets a source for filling essential positions. Such is the reality in 19 Southwest Virginia school systems, thanks to the Youth Success Initiatives program administered by the United Way of Southwest Virginia. Since its inception in 2019, the program has worked with local schools and prospective employers to train


and deliver this emerging talent pool to companies like CGI Inc. at its Russell County facility. “We’re a new-model United Way,” said Melinda Leland, director of youth success for United Way of Southwest Virginia. “We are not just funds in, funds out. We implement systems in a cradle-to-career approach. Everything we’re doing is about helping our school systems expose our students to workforce development.” The program enables school employees, known in the program as Ignite Coordinators, to help guide their young charges into potentially fruitful directions that would otherwise go unnoticed, said Erica Bostic, a school counselor and Ignite Coordinator at Honaker High School in Russell County. She added that a CGI internship last year spurred one young man to pursue cybersecurity studies. “We’re trying to reach our kids to help them explore careers. Even when they’re ready to graduate, they may not be decided — and that’s okay,” said Bostic. As a key component of United Way’s mission, the Youth Success Initiatives plan is based on the following approaches: