More than 50 tech-connected teenagers and millennials from across the state spent the weekend in North Little Rock as part of a Facebook Inc. initiative to provide Arkansas college students with “soft skills” and other workforce-ready tools necessary for entering the workforce.
The weekend stint at the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub is part of social media giant Facebook’s Career Connections program, a two-day skills training where college-aged students learned how to interview, how to master digital tools and get other work-related tips before they are matched up with local businesses for a paid internship later this summer.
Erin Stanger, deputy director at the Innovation Hub, said the Facebook-led program invited over 50 students to the North Little Rock nonprofit group on Saturday and Sunday after hosting a similar get-together in March with local businesses that will be matched with interns selected by the Silicon Valley-based social media giant.
“They are learning what their internship program is going to look like with the local business they are paired with,” said Stanger. “So, two weeks ago, we invited the 23 local businesses and introduced the program to them and did some training. This week, it’s the students turn to learn about it.”
Stanger said the goal of the get-together was to teach the diverse group of students from all backgrounds how to work in a professional environment, noting that mostly juniors and seniors from nine different colleges across the state were invited to the skills camp this weekend.
Sanger said teaching today’s students about workplace “soft skills” was important because sometimes smartphones and other technology-enabled devices can take away the focus of younger professionals just now starting their careers.
“So, we teach them let’s show up to work on time, dress appropriately, look each other in the eye, learn how to craft a professional email, shake hands and let’s be present and not looking down at our phones when we are at work …,” said Stanger. “Teaching the soft skills is important because everybody is very comfortable texting and being on the phone, but actually learning how to have that communication is a necessity.”
Facebook’s work initiative is part of a collaborative effort with the Conductor, Conway Area Chamber of Commerce, Little Rock Chamber of Commerce and the Arkansas Economic Development Commission to identify businesses to participate in the pilot program.
Besides training and internship opportunities, students will also be paired with mentors working at Facebook who will provide guidance to the students throughout the time spent with the local businesses. Following the Career Connections skills program over the weekend, Facebook will hold interviews and selection of fellows beginning in April.
The fellowship will run from May through August, where students will receive ongoing training, mentorship and check-ins throughout the four-month course. According to Facebook, 70% of its intern hires are retained at companies after three years.
Peipei Zhou, program lead for Facebook Career Connections program, told Talk Business & Politics that Arkansas was selected for the pilot largely because of Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s computing science and computer coding initiative. Although the governor’s computer coding initiative is aimed at high school students, Zhou said it is aligned with Facebook’s priorities to encourage and push students towards careers in the technology industry.
“We are trying to connect young people to meaningful careers in the community. And the reason we got connected with Arkansas is because we had sister programs already running in other parts of Arkansas,” said Zhou, who is based in New York City. “But your governor is so amazing in trying to get advancement towards careers in computer science education and trying to make it at the forefront of education and we wanted to support that.”
Nationally, Zhou said Facebook’s Career Connections program is looking to pair college-age students with employers of all types.
“We actually looking for employers on the ground, locally. From mom-and-pop shops all the way to corporations from a two-person company to a 10,000-person company, and really providing an opportunity for a fellowship or internship for the summer for a diverse group of students,” she said.