Macon PULSE program connects students and employers

Macon PULSE program connects students and employers

Thanks to a partnership between the Macon County Economic Development Commission and the Career and Technical Education department, Macon County high school students can look forward to the opportunity for paid internships next school year. 

“We’re here tonight about an exciting program, not only for our school system, our students, but our workforce in Macon County,” Macon County Economic Development Director Tommy Jenkins told commissioners during their May 14 meeting.

Macon County Schools’ Career and Technical Education department created the PULSE program — Partners United in Learning and Skills Exchange — a few years ago through its public safety classes in order to connect students with Macon County public safety professionals.

Students have been able to do internships and work-based shadowing with EMS, the fire department and 911 dispatch.

“Everyone who’s worked with these kids has been incredibly impressed and wanted more,” said Macon County Schools CTE Director Colleen Strickland.

Now, the program is progressing and staff are requesting funding to allow for paid internships through the PULSE program. Once students become a concentrator, meaning they’ve completed two levels of CTE courses in one area of study, they earn a credential that aligns with the pathway in their concentration area.

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Beginning next year, students who are seniors and concentrators will be aligned with business professionals in their pathway. They will be able to spend one semester of their senior year working a paid internship in that career pathway.

“That would consist of 120 hours on site,” said Strickland. “They’d have to have an internship portfolio and a final presentation. There’s a contract with the employer, a contract with the student and then also with the parents.” 

Students would also have to do weekly evaluations and reflections, as well as create a presentation for the end of the semester to demonstrate what they’ve learned.

“We know that the internships work, we know that a couple of our students who earned EMT certifications and who’ve been doing ridealongs and who’ve been interning with Macon County Emergency Medical have now been hired,” Strickland said.

With emergency service departments facing staff shortages across the region, this is not the first attempt to try to connect interested students with local employers. Franklin High School recently teamed up with Southwestern Community College to offer courses that put students on a path to earning their EMT certification.

Strickland also noted that the CTE program also recently graduated its first flight student who passed the pilot’s exam and got hired at the Macon County Airport.

“We know that getting kids out into the workforce, working under professionals, learning the skills is successful and it helps us retain talent right here in Macon County,” Strickland said.

The school system modeled its internship program after similar programs that exist in Surry and Yadkin counties, once it saw that it had all the elements already in place.

“We had workforce development, we had the county, we had the Economic Development Commission, we had the school board and our employers,” Strickland said. “But the one thing they had that we didn’t have … is they had stipends for the students.”

Students who participate in the internship program will be eligible for a $1,000 stipend, if the county approves the funding request in its budget process. They will use an app that works like a time clock that will also be a way for teachers and parents to keep track of students and ensure they are where they’re supposed to be.

“I hope you consider this budget request for the upcoming budget,” said Strickland.

But Strickland and Jenkins aren’t the only ones touting the internship opportunity. The Macon County CTE program recently submitted a proposal to the National CTE Best Practices and Innovation Conference and was selected within the top 26 and given the opportunity to present at the conference in Oregon this October.

“That’s quite an accomplishment to be able to go and share and it’s because of the ecosystem that we have here,” said Strickland.

The Business Advisory Committee together with the school system has reviewed and approved the proposed program.

“As we all know I think there’s two things at play here. We lose a lot of students outside our community when they go out of town to work,” said Jenkins. “This shows them that there are opportunities in our community for gainful employment and careers. It would also improve our workforce dramatically with home grown talent.”

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