New Orleans Native and Former HR Exec Wants to Bridge the Gap Between Black College Grads and jobs

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Applications are now open for rising college juniors and seniors. The program is also looking for business partners to provide paid internships and mentors to help guide students

Perry Sholes’ human resources skills were developed in the consumer products industry at Nabisco Foods Company Inc., and Kraft Foods Inc. Over the course of 10 years, he went from sales training to corporate leadership responsibilities for Kraft Foods Latin America headquarters in Miami. Perry left Kraft Foods International to return home to Louisiana just after hurricane Katrina to be close to family and help rebuild the city he loves.

In 2007, the business executive started his own consulting firm, Progressive HR Strategies Inc., which offers its clients services in a number of areas including executive and talent search, harassment prevention & culture training, and employee benefits consulting. And while back home, Sholes began to notice that young Black college graduates in the New Orleans area were disproportionately unemployed and underemployed despite their degrees.

He was right. 

According to Center for American Progress, Black graduates across the nation are almost twice as likely to be unemployed compared to their white peers a year after leaving college. And Black students are significantly more likely to find themselves in part-time or unpaid work after graduation.

HR Consultant Perry Sholes creates program to help prepare minority college students for opportunities after graduation.

For his part, Sholes says he could not just sit and watch the problem—not when he believes he has the expertise to do something about it. Driven by what he calls his “passion for developing young talent” and his desire to make a difference, he started the Corporate Internship Leadership Institute (CILI), a non-profit organization that collaborates with companies, educational institutions and students to provide internship opportunities throughout the Greater New Orleans area and Gulf Coast region of the state.

CILI is now accepting applications from Black and Latinx college students for its Tenth Institute Internship Program.

“Black and Brown people are still largely underemployed in New Orleans, including those that have earned a college degree,” says Sholes. “Tenth Institute is designed to address this issue by ensuring that New Orleans college students of color receive the skills necessary to attain middle to senior leadership positions after graduation by providing mentorship and leadership training throughout their collegiate matriculation.” 

Sholes is especially excited about employing his efforts in New Orleans.

“I grew up here. And this city I grew up in, I love,” says Sholes. “I went away for a long period of time; and now that I have returned home, this was an opportunity for me once being home to give back.”

The need for a program like his and his ability to put it together became apparent to Sholes while he was taking part in a leadership development program that encouraged its participants to find ways to give back to community.

“I was looking for something to do,” he says. “I challenged myself and said, ‘OK, are you just going to whine about the fact there is nothing or are you going to do something about it?’ ” 

Sholes’ non-profit is designed to facilitate professional development and soft skill building programs, coaching and mentoring to college students through its Tenth Institute Internship Program, which is now accepting applications for rising African-American college juniors and seniors.

“That is typically when they have decided what their major is. They have got some sort of focus on their career outcome,” says Sholes. “A student at that level is attractive to companies because that company can look at their workforce-development needs two years and can bring people in through internships that will turn into new hires for them.”

The program is seeking students with ties to the region, says Sholes. They can be enrolled at local universities; but that is not a requirement.”

“We are looking for students who have an anchor to Louisiana,” says Sholes. “So even if they are away at school in Atlanta or Houston, we want those students to come back home when they are done with their education, and bring that talent home and keep it home. We actually lose a lot of our graduates to other places. Part of our program is trying to show those students there opportunities here. They can come home, stay home and grow their families around their families.”

Students selected to participate in the Tenth Institute program will undergo a multi-year internship and professional development experience with participating companies and business executives from the region. Partnering companies will commit to providing paid internships for Tenth Institute members. The students will also receive mentorship and coaching through the program, which is based on self-awareness, working with others, as well as business writing skills and computer skills. 

“We’re going to be doing the work to not only help them to get that interviewed, but to be better prepared to do the work and thrive at that internship at such a level that the people that they work with will want to hire them when they are finished with college,” says Sholes. “This initiative really is about trying to help companies identify that talent and give them an easier way to find that talent and be a resource from them and also be a resource for the students to come into a program that not only just helps them find an internship or a job but helps them with the skills set to be able to thrive in those tops of jobs.”

Sholes has reached out to a number of local businesses and corporations, negotiating with them for funding and to offer internship positions with their firms. 

“Home Bank has contributed financially. We are still in discussions about bringing on interns. It’s just a matter of getting the confirmation. We have discussions with Entergy, Oschner, a couple of other banks (to take on interns),” says Sholes, adding that his organizations also want to work with local Black-owned businesses.

“We need companies. A black-owned company is like an HBCU. They should be training the future leaders. So if they have employees, this is a great opportunity. We don’t just need Entergy and Cox cable to employ us. We can be employed and have great careers and learning experiences with small to mid-size Black-owned companies. It’s really more about the learning experience and what we can teach that intern so that when they get out of college they have tangible work experience on their resume.”

Sholes is also looking for Black professionals in the greater New Orleans area to serve as mentors and is calling on members of Black professional, civic social, and fraternal organizations to consider volunteering their time and sharing their experience to help propel a young person’s future.

“Because this program is for students of color, we are looking for mentors of color,” he says. “We are looking for volunteers to really wrap around these students so they can go faster. Mentors of color are something that we need from the community to make this program successful.

For more information about the Tenth Institute and Corporate Internship Leadership Institute, please visit www.internshiptalent.org.