Volcker Alliance Spotlight on the North Carolina Talent Partnership: Strengthening Government-University Partnerships

Maya Corrin

A talented public sector workforce is essential to effective government and requires the cooperation, communication, and collaboration of colleges, universities and government agencies. In 2018, Governor Roy Cooper of North Carolina named Jenni Owen as the inaugural Director of Strategic Partnerships. The NC Office of Strategic Partnerships (OSP) develops and enhances partnerships between state government and North Carolina’s research institutions and philanthropic sector. Particularly relevant to the Government-to-University work is OSP’s initiative to strengthen the talent pipeline linking college and university graduates with career opportunities in state government. As part of this effort, OSP partnered with the NC Office of State Human Resources (OSHR) to establish the OSHR/NC College and University Partnership (NC Talent Partnership).

This Spotlight stems from the input of several North Carolina partners who are leading efforts to accomplish this work.

  • Nicole Hall, Director of Career & Professional Development, University of North Carolina at Greensboro
  • Lynn Kavcsak, Dean of Career and Employment Resources, Wake Technical Community College
  • Jenni Owen, Director of Strategic Partnerships, Office of the Governor/State Budget and Management
  • Kristin Siemek, State Talent Acquisition Manager, Office of State Human Resources

What challenges is the NC Talent Partnership addressing?

The NC Talent Partnership is addressing the related challenges of 1) state government striving to attract talent for employment opportunities across the state, and 2) talented colleges and university graduates interested in state government employment opportunities.  

We are also aiming to raise awareness on college and university campuses – including public and private four-year institutions, and community colleges – of public sector careers. It is critical to build a stronger bridge between government agencies and universities across NC to facilitate student connections to opportunities in government public service. State government has little presence on campuses due to resource constraints, lack of information sharing across sectors, and other factors. Lack of on-campus engagement limits students’ and career advisors’ opportunities to learn about the many and diverse state government employment opportunities. The Partnership is addressing this challenge, in part by working with colleges and universities to ensure thorough and consistent communication about career fair opportunities and when possible, waiving career fair fees for public sector employers.

What has the NC Talent Partnership produced so far?

Sometimes, even simple actions can be game changers. Bringing college and university representatives together with government representatives has proven extraordinarily valuable. We have created and expanded channels of communication, which has led to universities and government better supporting each other, sharing information, and working closely to address mutual challenges.

We collaborated to develop a database that includes career-relevant information for North Carolina’s 110 institutions of higher education and state agencies. This provides college and university representatives and state agency recruiters a straightforward way to identify and connect with each other. The database already is helping connect career services professionals to recruiters and students to opportunities in government. The Talent Partnership will continue to develop campus and state agency profiles that include recruiting calendars, top programs of study and recruitment, internship opportunities, and key contacts to increase the utility of the database.

The communication channels that the NC Partnership has opened should not be undervalued. Already campus career professionals are sharing upcoming career fair announcements and relevant information with agency recruiters. Likewise, OSHR and agency recruiters have been able to share open job opportunities with career services offices and provide professional development and career awareness sessions for students.  These connections are valuable to both sectors and stem from the NC Partnership.

Has the NC Talent Partnership been involved with COVID-19 response?

COVID-19 has highlighted the importance and value of the NC Talent Partnership. Given the impacts of the pandemic, institutions of higher education are more eager than ever for on-the-ground information about job and internship opportunities and job-seeking students are exploring government and nonprofit career opportunities that they may not have otherwise.

Among other efforts to meet these needs, OSP launched the NC COVID-19 Student Response Corps. The Response Corps places students who lost summer internships or jobs due to COVID-19 with local government and nonprofits in need of additional capacity due to COVID-19. Since June, the Response Corps has led to the placement of over 100 interns in positions across the state with additional opportunities still available and searchable through a public database that the Office of Strategic Partnerships developed in partnership with the Lead for NC program.

OSP leveraged existing relationships born through the NC Talent Partnership to help plan for and implement the initiative and to share opportunities and match students to internships. OSP also worked with Lead for NC to provide training and education sessions that students attended before their internships began, as well as a speaker series. A strong and interconnected government-university network is important in normal times and has shown especially beneficial during the pandemic.

What are the NC Talent Partnership’s hopes for the future?

The NC Talent Partnership is laying a foundation for productive, permanent engagement between university and government partners in North Carolina. We are confident that this will continue to yield improvements to public sector recruitment strategies and outcomes, including resources to create additional paid state government internships so that all students are able to access to these opportunities. The initiative is building sustainable government-university partnerships and highlighting what an attractive career option state government can be for a wide and diverse range of job seekers.

What advice does the NC Talent Partnerships have for other states or universities looking to improve their talent pipelines?

The systems and structures we are establishing and enhancing are replicable. We recommend starting with simple but meaningful steps such as convening college/university and state government representatives whether literally in the same room or virtually. Much of what we have accomplished thus far has not been a burden with respect to either the time or cost required. We have focused on critical but often overlooked steps of bringing people together, helping partners identify and find each other, and opening lines of communication in multiple ways. It is important not to bypass these incremental but meaningful steps, which have can generate tremendous value.

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