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Futures for Kids gears students for careers

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Susan Milliken

Susan Milliken

Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — Two years ago, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina was looking for bilingual customer-service representatives.

With Futures for Kids acting as go-between, teachers at Sanderson High School in Raleigh identified students whose personalized portfolios they had created at the nonprofit’s  website suggested they might be interested in those kinds of jobs.

Blue Cross Blue Shield, which offers tuition reimbursement for employees, hired two of those students after they graduated from Sanderson.

“Businesses have not had a way to communicate directly with students interested in specific careers,” says Susan Milliken, executive director of Futures for Kids.

Founded in 2001, the Raleigh-based statewide nonprofit helps students identify their career interests and learn what it takes to pursue those careers, and also connects them with mentors and employers.

The group is working this school year with over 65,000 students in 59 school systems, representing well over half the students and just over half the 115 school systems in the state, including most of the largest systems.

Operating with four employees and an annual budget of $370,000, the nonprofit has enlisted roughly 400 corporate partners and over 800 volunteer career coaches.

It has reduced expenses by licensing an online system from Toronto-based Career Cruising in a move that allows the nonprofit to focus its attention on training school counselors and career-development coordinators to use its site in working with students, and on recruiting employers and career coaches.

Through their teachers, students use the Futures for Kids’ web-based software to complete forms that assess their learning style and interest; get tips on how to use their learning style to their best advantage; and begin exploring careers they seem suited for.

The software provides students with information about salaries, working conditions, the outlook for jobs, and the education they need to get those jobs, with links to colleges and universities in North Carolina and throughout the U.S. that offer those kinds of programs.

The system also gives educators information about their students’ learning styles so they can adjust their classroom activities to better meet the students’ needs.

Students also can use the career profiles the software creates to connect with companies in the industries for which they seem suited, and with career coaches, with Futures for Kids acting as intermediary in both cases.

Now, the nonprofit is developing a program that will let students shadow workers, tour companies and hear classroom speakers.

Last spring, for example, Piedmont Natural Gas hosted 11 high-school students in Robeson County who were enrolled in construction classes, showing them the company’s welding and pipefitting shops, and drafting rooms.

“Piedmont said they have pipelines for their engineers, but they don’t have a specific strategy to generate any interest for those trade positions,” says Rebecca Cooper, communications manager for Futures for Kids.

Milliken says the group is focusing on recruiting career coaches and employers.

“This is an easy way,” she says, “to mentor students in middle and high school, show students the relevance of their education, and develop a workforce for employers.”

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