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OC Leader Board: Keeping Orange County’s Future Workforce Local

Editor’s Note: The Automobile Club of Southern California is the fourth largest private company in Orange County, with about $7 billion in sales in 2022. Orange County United Way is the county’s 16th largest nonprofit, reporting $37.2 million in revenue for the year ended June 30.

Ulises Torres was a senior in high school when he took an internship at the Automobile Club of Southern California (AAA) in Costa Mesa. For Torres, the four-week immersive experience allowed him to shadow professionals in the software engineering industry.

It was a significant opportunity that he has not forgotten. Not only did he get a chance to gain valuable insight on a career aspiration, but as a high school student it was his first experience outside of the classroom and in the real workforce.

Torres is one of hundreds of high school students who found an internship through Orange County United Way’s Youth Career Connections Summer Workplace Mentorship program.

His internship kickstarted his passion for software engineering and he is currently pursuing a degree in the same field at University of California, Davis. The program was launched eight years ago to introduce high school students to companies, careers, and growing industries in Orange County including health, engineering, technology, arts and media and business.

What is Orange County United Way’s goal with regard to ensuring students succeed?

To increase the graduation rate for students of socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds by educating and exposing them to Orange County businesses and career opportunities so they can stay, work, and thrive in the community they grew up in.

This program is for the students who aspire to attend college and come back to Orange County, as well as for the students who don’t fit the traditional school mold and are more interested in seeking career opportunities right out of high school.

For example, some students might associate careers in healthcare with solely nursing or becoming a doctor, which typically requires a college degree. However, they don’t realize there are many healthcare careers beyond those clinical roles and are also outside of the hospital setting such as paramedics, health services managers and lab and medical equipment technicians, just to name a few.

Youth Career Connections has become a valuable program that showcases all Orange County has to offer in terms of employment by introducing students to growing careers and guiding them on how to access those jobs for future success.

Student Success

Additional programs have been created under Orange County United Way’s United for Student Success initiative that bring speakers to classrooms, opportunities for internships and micro internships, and a chance for high school students to collaborate with companies that inspire them. The hope is that these experiences leave a lasting impression for the student and the employer.

In particular, early internships help students develop skills that aren’t always taught in the classroom but are expected in the workplace.

Our hope for the year ahead?

Increased engagement and participation from Orange County businesses executives who are seeking qualified employee candidates and want to invest in their workforce—and equally in hometown kids who want to live and work in Orange County.

Orange County United Way currently has more than 70 corporate partners, including the Automobile Club of Southern California, Ware Malcomb, CHOC, Razer, and ViewSonic, to name a few, actively impacting students. These companies have participated in various capacities, including leading workplace mentorships, acting as corporate classroom speakers and hosting industry site visits to help students explore careers and get exposure into some of the fastest-growing career fields in Orange County.

While it’s apparent there is a growing interest in these programs, the need for more business and corporate partners is great as more and more young people desire one-of-a-kind opportunities to learn and grow.

To become a partner of Orange County United Way and act as an internship or industry site visit host or a classroom speaker, please visit: ocuw.to/yccmentorship24.

To learn more about Orange County United Way’s United for Student Success initiative and Youth Career Connections, please visit: UnitedWayOC.org/u4ss

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Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung joined the Orange County Business Journal in 2021 as their Marketing Creative Director. In her role she creates all visual content as it relates to the marketing needs for the sales and events teams. Her responsibilities include the creation of marketing materials for six annual corporate events, weekly print advertisements, sales flyers in correspondence to the editorial calendar, social media graphics, PowerPoint presentation decks, e-blasts, and maintains the online presence for Orange County Business Journal’s corporate events.
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