More than an internship, Fresno program closing the local gap in career pipeline for young people

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High school senior Savanah Ruiz is getting on-the-job training as a welder through Career Nexus, a program that places young people in paid internships to develop the next generation of the greater Fresno region’s skilled workforce.

“My mom has always said school was first,” said Ruiz. “But the fact that this is a paid internship and I’m getting so many different experiences — she told me to go for it.”

Career Nexus, currently in its pilot phase, is more than an internship program. It sets up interns for success by creating a career ecosystem that involves employers, soft-skills training, coaching and support through the duration of the internship. It is run out of the Fresno Business Council and is one of the Fresno DRIVE initiatives. The James Irvine Foundation has provided initial funding for three years with additional funding from the Fresno Regional Workforce Development Board.

“Career Nexus intends to close the gap between economic and human development. Both efforts require whole community participation and alignment,” said Deborah Nankivell, CEO of the Fresno Business Council, which is a member of CA FWD’s California Stewardship Network. “It elevates the conversation to the level of civic stewardship and closes the gap between equity and the economy as we’re working in Fresno.”

The program is geared toward young adults who face barriers to employment. “One of the things we found that got us into this is that there’s this gap in the career pipeline between ages 18 and 28,” said Career Nexus CEO Kurt Madden. Prospective interns must be referred to the program and, after they are accepted, must complete career readiness training, meet with a facilitator and check-in with their coach on a regular basis.

A career training coordinator at Duncan Polytechnic High School referred Ruiz to Career Nexus. She first started in the warehouse at United Western Industries, Inc. After four days, she mentioned that she was studying welding at school and was moved to the welding department – becoming the company’s first female welder.

“I went through all of the different offers and for some reason, United Western Industries stood out to me,” recalled Ruiz. “I’m learning a few new different ways of welding, different techniques and different gas mixtures.”

“The work Career Nexus is doing to prepare these interns is incredible,” said Bruce Ketch, general manager at United Western Industries, Inc. “Savanah interviewed better than some adults, showed up with strong soft skills and was ready to work.” He added that she’s practicing her welding and getting better each day.

“We want this to be a win-win,” added Madden. “We want the business to feel like they got something out of this internship, and we want the intern to feel the same way. Otherwise, internships tend to be a lose-lose, where the employer does it out of their civic duty and so they don’t really dedicate someone to oversee and manage it.”

Madden says the internship program will run in the Spring, Summer and Fall and scale up to include hundreds of interns, with the goal of placing thousands over the next three years. “Our goal is to create almost a farm team for these employers, so they say, ‘I want four or five of the interns.’”

As for Ruiz, she has her dream job before graduating from high school. Of welding, she says, “I don’t know what it was. It is just so fun to do and pretty to look at. You are physically sewing with fire.”


Nadine Ono

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