Paid internships connect high school students with Harrison County, Mississippi Businesses

SEDC News,

Paid internships connect high school students with Harrison County, Mississippi Businesses

SEA Force (Skills, Experience, Adventure) is the Harrison County Development Commission’s (HCDC) innovative workforce development paid internship program that connects county high school students with businesses needing their skills. The program is a novel approach to career exploration in Harrison County, Mississippi. We partner with local high schools and businesses to match students with the career they think they want to pursue. Juniors and seniors participate; they are recommended by the school and then meet with the business.

For most students, this is their first job, and employers get the opportunity to interview and work with some of Harrison County’s best and brightest. An outcome of the SEA Force program is students have a real job on their resume and a reference and, in turn, they tell their friends about their amazing experience. Meanwhile, employers learn how gifted some of our young people are. We have helped students find a path forward, instilled confidence, and developed mentor relationships that have expanded their career opportunities and horizons.

SEA Force interns have helped create national marketing campaigns, written articles published regionally, produced and edited video for ESPN, designed the yearly HCDC custom socks, or learned an engineering specialty. Another significant outcome has been the fostering of two-way relationships – students return to school and share what they do and then their friends want to do that as well, and likewise the businesses learn to appreciate how talented these students are and want to hire more.

Here’s a success story: A local plant manager, Mark S., was having difficulty finding suitable employees. We took him on a tour of the career and technical department at Gulfport High School, then let him describe his company to 20 teacher-selected students. One stand-out ended up starting immediately as a SEA Force intern at Mark’s manufacturing facility. His first assignment was to repair, reprogram, and rewire an essential machine, which the student fixed in little over an hour. A specialist would have had to be flown in for the repair at a high cost. As an aside, the intern’s best friend also ended up working for Mark, and both students became the valedictorian and salutatorian of Gulfport High School. In turn, Mark became their mentor, helped them with college application theses and references, and these two remarkable young seniors were accepted into the university of their choice.

The SEA Force concept was envisioned by HCDC Executive Director, Bill Lavers. Director of Business Development, Brandi Hough, is in charge of implementation with assistance from two HCDC team members.

Funding came from grants from our energy partners: Cooperative Energy, Mississippi Power, and Coast Electric Power Association. The HCDC SEA Force wage is $9/hour, with employers having the option to supplement that wage.

SEA Force is not a million-dollar workforce program and can be accomplished by other communities. It doesn’t take a lot of money to inspire our youth and change their trajectory. The traditional speeches by economic developers are about workforce development, economic development, and jobs. At HCDC we actually create jobs through our workforce development initiative and have an unlimited opportunity to help others move toward a better career path.

~Harrison County Economic Development Authority, Harrison County, MS
   Bill Lavers, Executive Director
   Brandi Hough, Director of Business Development