Jaylan Caulton grew up watching his dad cook meals, and it inspired him. Now, after completing the Culinary Arts pathway, job shadowing the chef at one restaurant and working part-time at another, his post-high school plan is to attend a culinary school in Charlotte.

A fellow high school senior, Alex Worrell, goes to class in the morning before heading to the Paulding County Sheriff’s Office, where she works eight hours a day as the executive assistant for the department’s Criminal Investigations division.  She was able to obtain this job after completing the Public Safety pathway and enrolling in Work-Based Learning.

“One thing I’ve learned is how to conduct a lineup,” said Worrell, who plans to pursue a law enforcement career while attending college. “It’s not like on TV. The modern lineup is on paper – it’s far less dangerous or risky.”

Alex Worrell

A high school senior, Alex Worrell works after school five days a week for the Paulding County Sheriff’s Office.

The two South Paulding High School students were part of a group of more than 400 upperclassmen, from five different county schools, filling a church in Dallas, Georgia, for an educational event designed to give them a stronger edge in securing rewarding careers.

It’s the 10th annual Regions Rising Professionals Work-Based Learning Employability Skills Seminar. It’s a long name. And it’s long on results. The seminar teaches everything from interview presentation to resume-building to social-media management – soft skills that help ensure competitive resumes and good jobs.

We’ve focused on getting kids jobs, and it’s paying off.
Susan Rushing, Regions Branch Manager

Susan Rushing has been there since the beginning. A branch manager for Regions in nearby Dallas, just west of Metro Atlanta, she has had a hand in organizing each of the Rising Professionals seminars.

“Ten years ago, I was part of the workforce development committee for the Chamber,” Rushing explained. “We wanted to help students find jobs. We were asking, ‘Where are the work gaps? What are the soft skills we need to address?’”

That conversation led her to Monica Rydza, Youth Apprenticeship Coordinator at the Paulding County School District.

“The goal is to have the students ready for employment after high school,” Rydza said, by teaching soft skills. “Students need to learn how to get to work on time, how to call the manager and explain when you have a conflict, how to work effectively and, most of all, how to keep a job and work your way up the ladder.

“We now have a lot of local businesses on board, but Regions has been here since the start.”

Monica Rydza

The goal of Monica Rydza, Youth Apprenticeship Coordinator at the Paulding County School System, is to have students ready for careers after high school.

Bankers from Regions teach financial literacy, providing the students advice on everything from budgeting to building credit.

Sara Magnusson, Regions’ Hiram branch manager, puts the students through their paces with a live group job interview.

“The customer is upset because something’s not in stock. How are you going to make the customer happy?”

“Bottom line: Tell me why I should hire you for this position.”

Some of the students respond confidently, with ready answers, yet most are uncomfortable. That’s the point of the exercise.

“What I’m looking for is, who is a leader?” Magnusson tells the students. “Who’s making eye contact? Who is separating themselves from the others?

Sara Magnusson

Regions banker Sara Magnusson holds a mock group interview session with a handful of students.

No one understands that more than Imani Abu-Bakir, a former Paulding County WBL student who saw the Rising Professionals seminar as a springboard to college and a career as a business tech analyst for Deloitte Consulting in Atlanta. Now she’s back at the event as a professional, providing job interview tips and real-world experiences that resonate because, just a few years before, she was in the same crowd of students.

“It’s the small, successful traits that can keep you ahead of the curve,” Abu-Bakir said. “Those start young, and they are skills that must be improved over the years. But if we can teach them that here, we are creating a pipeline for students that leads into fulfilling careers.”

Imani Abu-Bakir

Imani Abu-Bakir talks about her experience since attending her first Regions Rising Professionals event.

Some of the soft skills taught weren’t even a concern a generation ago. For example, one class teaches students about the potential negative impact of undisciplined social media and emphasizes how many employers view the likes of Snapchat and Instagram as a window into a potential hire’s true self.

Local photographers Elaine and Gary Jones deliver free, studio-quality headshots for each student, providing an extra level of professional help for job seekers.

For students like Worrell, who are already working steady jobs, the day reinforces that entry-level jobs can lead to much more. Because of her school training in computer basics, she took over more duties with the Sheriff’s Office, including data management. Thus, a part-time gig became a 40-hours-a-week job over the summer leading into a successful career.

That’s the vision Rushing and Rydza had from the program’s inception.

“Paulding County has always been a very forward-thinking county,” Rushing said. “We’ve seen such huge leaps with this program, from teaching the basics to conversations about careers to honing interview skills and finding internships. We’ve focused on getting kids jobs, and it’s paying off.”