For a generation now, Cumberland County parents have been unable to persuade their sons and daughters to return home after college. The post-college student flight results from the belief that 20-somethings don’t see much of a future working in their hometown. The allure of opportunities in Raleigh, Chapel Hill and other points north and west is the apparent culprit. Indeed, Cumberland County’s population has not grown significantly in more than two decades. The city of Fayetteville came up with an idea that may help reverse, or at least slow down, the trend.
The city’s innovative Youth Internship Summer Program introduces young people who are still in high school to local career opportunities that may entice them to come home after college. The fledgling project focuses on STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and math. The program began last fiscal year with five city interns, nine Public Works Commission interns and three students in the private sector. It was expanded this summer with the city hiring 10 high school seniors, PWC 10 and the private sector two. “I’ll be working with Christine Michaels, new Chamber CEO, to help promote the program to our private sector employers,” said Assistant City Manager Jay Reinstein. “At a minimum, I would like to have at least 10 private sector commitments next year.”
The City and PWC pay their 20 interns $8 an hour or approximately $1,536 each for the six-week period they’re employed. To encourage more private sector involvement, city government agreed to subsidize local businesses by paying 50 percent of the cost, or approximately $750 per student. The total investment in the lives of 22 young people was $31,258.
Reinstein called it money well-spent: “This program exposes our youth to local government opportunities and provides them with career options they may not have considered if not for these summer internships.”
Students were referred by Cumberland County Schools and interviewed by city, utility and private sector staff before being hired. Reinstein said this year was very competitive. Of the nearly 50 students who applied, almost half of them were hired. Reinstein’s hope is that city council will be able to fund additional students next summer. City hall interns worked in engineering and infrastructure, finance, human resources, parks and recreation, transit, the airport and information technology. Some of the tasks and projects included: Billing, clerical work, data entry, website applications and FAST scheduling.