Better together: New Community Partnerships & Programs division aims to build connections

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Better together: New Community Partnerships & Programs division aims to build connections

The business of business is relationships; the business of life is human connection. Robin S. Sharma, leadership expert and author


“The new world of work requires workforce development service providers, both locally and regionally, to work together in new and unprecedented ways,” says Charlotte Works President and CEO Steve Partridge. “Charlotte-area residents deserve a system in which partners focus on common goals, speak with one voice and leverage limited resources to maximize community results.”

Better together. Relationships. Connection. Partners.

All these can be trite words if you’re really cynical – or if you’re not Debra Dixon, community partnerships and programs manager.

Dixon, who’s been a member of Charlotte Works’ team since 2004, has shifted roles and responsibilities many times in her career, but these newest ones may be the most important as the world shifts into “the connection economy” and the organization – and indeed, workforce development as a whole – shifts with it.

About two years ago, as head of the SNAP (Share Network Access Points) program, she began to see a need for more resources: not just greater support for job-seekers here, but also for community partners, specifically, those working with individuals who have barriers to employment. (“Barriers to employment” encompass everything from child-care and transportation access to a lack of soft or hard skills to former offenders.)

“That meant coming outside of the faith- and community-based organizations of the SNAP sites to help other partners fulfill their missions with this particular population,” Dixon says. “I took some time to understand both our focus and all the needs, researching certain partners we’re already working with and looking at others who are also serving those with barriers to employment. They can’t do it all. I realized we have a new ‘customer:’ our community partners for whom we can develop innovative services and resources. We’re like an agent to serve and connect those partners along with the job-seekers.”

When she says “we,” she’s referring to herself and James Merrick, community partnerships program coordinator, who helped refine the new department’s mission and vision.

“We realized we needed to be more focused on our partners as a whole,” he says. “We looked at all the partners we have through the SNAP sites, Working Smart, CPCC [Central Piedmont Community College] – and realized other organizations can use us to fill in some of their gaps.”

Collaborations in the works include the N.C. Welcome Home initiative with the Wal-Mart Foundation and Charlotte Bridge Home; delivering Working Smart to clients of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Dream Center;and several site-specific programs with the Charlotte Housing Authority (CHA).

Their new department’s scope of work will include:

  • providing Working Smart: Soft Skills for Workplace Success, a soft-skills curriculum developed to respond to employers’ need for workers with the communication and problem-solving skills to succeed on the job;
  • offering the workshops currently only available by physical attendance at one of Charlotte’s three NCWorks Career Centers either onsite (such as at the CHA’s Southside Homes community) or through web-based technology at partner locations and SNAP sites;
  • preparing individuals to test for and receive the N.C. Career Readiness Certificate (N.C. CRC), a nationally recognized, portable credential that shows employers that they have the basic skills necessary to be successful in a particular job;
  • helping clients of partner agencies access assessments to determine their existing skill sets and suggest possible career pathways; and
  • connecting partners and their clients to these services and opportunities to advance Charlotte Works’ vision of making the Charlotte region home to the nation’s most skilled and work-ready workforce.

Dixon’s goal is to become an invaluable resource to the partners we serve and believes that becoming a connector for them will have a direct impact on the success of individuals. “It really boils down to supporting the job-seekers. They’ll become self-sufficient and find jobs, and the community will become more aware of how the workforce system is providing resources to all job-seekers to create a great workforce in Mecklenburg County and the region,” she says.


Interested in exploring a partnership with NCWorks in Charlotte? Contact Debra Dixon, community partnerships and programs manager, at 704.206.1348.

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