Increasing postgraduation employment for college students of color

CHARLOTTE — While unemployment in Charlotte has fallen to some of the lowest levels in years, college graduates are struggling to find work. A new report found that, for young African Americans with a four-year degree, the job search has been especially brutal.

An organization that plans to launch in 2020 hopes to increase postgraduation employment opportunities for college students of color by maximizing work-based programs. Its goal is to eliminate the barriers that may foster unemployment for degree-holding students of color.

GardHouse wants to close the gap between minority-owned businesses and students of color who will be seeking employment upon graduation through work-based programming.

“I've been speaking with students across Charlotte and their experiences with trying to obtain internships that can assist in finding future employment,” said Jonathan Gardner, founder of GardHouse. “I've found many are really in a state of hopelessness. It’s hard to hear someone who has yet to even reach their 20s feel that their lives are already written.”

The number of people unemployed in Charlotte peaked in February 2010 at 141,354. There are now 92,073 fewer people unemployed in the metropolitan area.

In October, the Charlotte unemployment rate was 3.6%.

However, Gardner said as Charlotte confronts the upward social mobility crisis, a gap remains for college students of color seeking employment.

“While 65% of employers find it necessary to have experience, students of color in Charlotte lack the social capital to gain it,” Gardener said.

A GardHouse mentor will share wisdom and experiences and, through the relationship, deepen personal and professional skills.

Students of color are having a harder time than whites finding a job, are more likely to be in a job that does not require their college degree and are being paid less than white workers with the same experience.

After analyzing his own obstacles entering the workforce, Gardner created GardHouse to provide resources for students just like him. An African American student raised by a single mother who struggled to make ends meet, his professional connections were slim.

He held a series of internships throughout college, but none translated into technical experience when he was searching for employment. As he did more research into work-based programs, employment disparities were still prevalent in Charlotte.

Originally from Philadelphia, Gardner said there were a variety of programs for students of color to get into college. However, there were very few that assisted first-generation students with building professional experience.

“I’ve witnessed many of my peers leave college due to their inability to obtain paid and unpaid internships,” he said. “Many of them questioned staying enrolled if they couldn’t build their resumes to get a job after.”

His experience with managing interns and engaging with students of color while in the corporate arena further pushed Gardner to establish GardHouse.

“Not only do I see myself in these kids, I see my youngest nephew who will one day start seeking internships for his own advancement. I want to be the change in the world that he will grow up in,”Gardner said.

GardHouse believes the following benefits will arise for students its program:

  • Students are more likely to like their job out of college: 71.4% of students who gain employment from prior internships upon graduation average a one-year retention rate.
  • Students gain more leverage when interviewing: 65% of employers feel it is necessary to have experience to gain employment.
  • Students career path becomes more evident: 81.1% of graduates report that the internships helped them shift their career directions by changing the focus of classes or majors.
  • Students will develop peer and professional connections. Through a series of planned workshops and networking events, GardHouse expects the social capital of these students to rise.

GardHouse is still identifying minority-owned businesses, as well as professionals of color in Charlotte, that are interested in GardHouse's mission and vision.

“Without having these mentors in the lives of college students of color, we aren't doing our best job at exposing these individuals to what success could look like for them.,” Gardner said.

A valuable resource in Charlotte for the mentoring community is the Mayor’s Mentoring Alliance. The alliance educates mentoring organizations about best practices and mentoring standards, ignites impactful and enduring mentor-mentee relationships and connects Charlotte’s mentoring community.


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