Due to baby boomers retiring and recent economic growth, many local employers are more interested in young people knowing there are good career opportunities right here in their home county of Wilkes.

It can be a hard message to get across, especially for manufacturers faced with overcoming outdated, negative stigmas.

Earlier this month, a consultant hired to develop a three-year strategic plan for the Wilkes Economic Development Corp. recommended an initiative called “Work in Burke” as a good model for addressing this challenge.

“Work in Burke” includes a website designed to help companies in Burke County tap that county’s native talent pool and stem the out-migration of promising young people, which robs rural counties like Burke and Wilkes of people who can contribute in many ways in addition to being good workers.

Burke Development Inc., which is Burke County’s equivalent of the Wilkes EDC, launched Work in Burke in the fall of 2017 after a period of research to help young people and their parents in that county explore selected career options. It is provided in partnership with the Burke County Schools and Western Piedmont Community College.

Career categories highlighted on Work in Burke resulted from months of research by a steering committee consisting of economic development leaders, a workforce development board and various organizations in Burke. It also was based on input from industry leaders on future workforce needs and 10 focus groups.

All of this work found that the most in-demand jobs for Burke could be grouped in three sectors: manufacturing, healthcare and trade jobs. The same would likely be true for Wilkes County.

The “Career Explorer” section of the website gives the career interest choices of “make things,” “help people,” “high tech,” “solve problems,” “fix things,” “design stuff,” “work outdoors,” “self-employed” and “teamwork.”

As few as four and as many as 21 more specific career fields are listed for each of these nine general interest categories. Listed for each of these are career demand, education prerequisites and potential wages. In some cases, users can explore available jobs in the industry. Work in Burke emphasizes the importance of postsecondary education and gaining marketable skills.

Although there are links to job opportunities, the Work in Burke website is more about showing people what it’s like to work in certain fields through videos that focus on individual workers in different industries. Each video features a real person living and working in Burke.

The Burke effort also awards grants to teachers for innovative educational projects that tie in with the initiative’s goals, such as engineering and engineering design classes. Work in Burke also makes speakers available on pertinent topics.

Well over a dozen companies have signed on as Work in Burke partners, which means committing to taking an active and engaged role in educating young people and their parents about job and training opportunities available in Burke. Partner companies are provided opportunities to interact with students and parents and share information with the public about what they do and the jobs they offer.

Work in Burke was launched with an initial three-year budget of $300,000, funded with an Appalachian Regional Commission grant, a Maximize Carolina Sector grant from the N.C. Department of Commerce and an N.C. General Assembly appropriation.

It was featured in the Economic Development Partnership of N.C. annual report to the General Assembly. For more details, go to workinburke.com.

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