Ignite Program2019-06-13T14:39:55+00:00

Program Overview

The United Way of Southwest Virginia Ignite Program sparks career interest in the next generation of Southwest Virginia’s workforce through career awareness and skill development.

The program helps bridge the gap between the worlds of learning and work by connecting schools and students with employers and employees. Across the United Way of Southwest Virginia service area, the Ignite Program is investing in the lives of almost 30,000 middle school and high school students, enabling them to realize their potential and be ready to enter and advance in the region’s workforce.

The United Way of Southwest Virginia Ignite Program fights for a healthy, educated, and financially stable workforce of tomorrow.

“There were so many careers out there that I didn’t even know about.”


“WE MUST start now (6th grade) in rearing responsible young adults who are willing to work hard in their future.”


“Great community involvement!”


“The Expo was like a day off, but you’re still learning.”


“With the help of the educator tours, I can advise students that there is a purpose for what they’re learning and that hard work is expected far past the years of middle and high school.”


“Every where we went on the educator tours, the employers mentioned soft skills. I think we are so worried about our students getting an education, we sometimes forget the basic skills they need like being on time, talking to others, showing respect, and other soft skills.”


The Need

There’s a gap between the worlds of learning and work. We educated our community about it during Operation Tomorrow’s Workforce. What’s needed is a true “cradle-to-career” continuum: a talent pipeline that prepares the next generation for the jobs of tomorrow, supplies businesses with skilled workers and builds a robust, competitive economy.

  1. According to the Virginia Department of Education, less than ½ of high school graduates in Southwest Virginia go on to technical training, two-year/four-year higher education or the military.
  2. Based on local employer feedback, Southwest Virginia is experiencing a workforce shortage and cannot fill open positions.
  3. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, in 2015, more than 3,000 of Southwest Virginia’s youth between the ages of 16 and 19 weren’t in school or working.

“I think this is one of the more innovative and promising projects for the future of not only Southwest Virginia, but the Commonwealth. Coordination between our secondary schools and prospective employers is critical to educating our young people in opportunities available to them, providing skills and experiences that will make them and our region’s workforce more valuable. Providing our existing and future employers with a skilled and informed workforce is a win-win.”

Mike Quillen, Board Chair, Region One, GO Virginia

Program Components

United Way of Southwest Virginia is bringing partners together to address the challenges facing tomorrow’s workforce. We have worked cross-sector to develop the following program components.

Career awareness

Skill development

  • Soft skills curriculum from the Department of Labor to enable students to interact effectively and succeed in the workplace (6th-12th grade students)
  • Financial simulations (Reality Stores from VCE) to introduce concepts of smart money management (8th grade students)
  • Internships to connect classroom learning to on-the-job experience and prepare students with necessary skills to fill workforce gaps (9th-12th grade students)
  • Credential alignment to ensure education and training programs match employer demand (9th-12th grade students)
  • Project-based learning modules to translate student awareness and interest into action (9th-12th grade students)

Speakers Bureau

The Ignite Program Speakers Bureau introduces students to local employers and future work opportunities.  

To download the names and contact information of available volunteer speakers for Spring 2019, click here.  

Summer 2019 Internships

For all the information you need to participate in a Summer 2019 internship, whether you are a student, employer, or Ignite School Coordinator, click here.

2018-2019 Program Participation

students participating
schools participating
employers participating
school systems
Educators in Industry teachers participating
View Participating Schools

Community-wide Benefits

By partnering with the Ignite Program, parents, community partners, and employers can join the efforts of United Way of Southwest Virginia to invest in tomorrow’s workforce, today.


Get real-world advice and find out what options are available locally for employment once you graduate. You’ll get:

  • Online Career Matchmaking
  • Company Tours
  • Online Day-in-the-Life Videos
  • Soft Skill Development (Punctuality, Communication, etc.)
  • Resume Building
  • Career Coach
  • Money Management
  • Online Journal
  • Online Career Games
  • Careers Expo for Youth Participation
  • Work-Based Learning (coming soon)


Help prepare local youth for the workforce, whether you’re currently working or retired. How you can invest your time:

  • Career Coach
  • Guest Speaker
  • Company Tours
  • Careers Expo for Youth Participation
  • Classroom Demonstrations/Activities
  • Advisory Committee Member
  • Mock/Informational Interviews
  • Work-based Learning (coming soon)


Keep up with your students’ career interests with our software’s integration into Power School. You can:

  • See your students’ career aspirations
  • Start conversations about your students’ future
  • Contact guidance counselors and teachers


Obtain software and a career coach that helps you link your students to real employers in your area and guide them in their career choice. You’ll get:

  • Software including Online Student Assessment
  • Classroom Demonstrations
  • Professional Development
  • Pre-made Lesson Plans
  • Careers Expo for Youth Participation

Local Economic Developers

Increased opportunities to recruit outside business/industry to the region with a plan in place to develop a pipeline to a well-prepared workforce.

  • Engaged workforce
  • Cooperation among communities
  • Community-minded employers
  • Career-ready graduates

Parent Tips for Helping Your Child Choose a Career

United Way of Southwest Virginia, through our Ignite Program, wants to help your child prepare for the workforce of tomorrow. Thank you for allowing us this time to inspire and invest in your child. But we know parents are the most important people to help their children figure out the path they need to take into the future. We ask that you encourage your student to cultivate his/her talents and interests by engaging with them and expressing an interest in their future. That’s a lot of responsibility. But don’t worry! Even if you’re not a career expert, you can have a positive impact.

Nine Ways to Help Your Child Prepare for their Future Career

  1. Use dreams as a starting point – what does your child dream of doing for a career?
  2. Share your story – how did you end up in your current career? Would you follow the same path today?
  3. Find interests and strengths – help your child find out what they are interested in and what they are good at doing.
  4. Research careers – learn about employers in your town, city and county. What does it take to get a job working at the businesses in your area?
  5. Connect the dots between education and careers – help your child see that what they are learning in school, from reading and writing to math to problem solving and relating to other people, are all a part of being a successful employee someday.
  6. Help find a mentor for your child – if your child shows strong interest in a certain career path, help your child find an inspiring mentor in that field.
  7. Give your child opportunities to try new activities – playing sports, playing an instrument, participating in volunteer opportunities, visiting museums, going to the zoo, taking trips, all of these are ways to explore the world. Watch your children and see which of these activities ignite their interest.
  8. Encourage your child to choose good friends – who your child chooses to hang out with can greatly affect what they believe is possible and the opportunities they seek.
  9. Set a great example – your child watches your every move, so work on being a great example of doing work you enjoy.

Nine Questions to Ask Your Child

United Way of Southwest Virginia purchased a computer program your child can use at his/her school to assess personality traits, strengths and interests.  You can check out your child’s progress through Power School.  Encourage your child to use the program and go over the progress together.

In addition, here are a few of the questions you can ask your child from Kerry Petsinger’s online resource, 30 Powerful Questions to Find Your Passion:

  1. What makes you happiest?
  2. What do you get so into that you lose track of time when you do it?
  3. What aspects about your personality do people compliment you on?
  4. What comes naturally to you? (Think about times when something has “clicked” for you that others struggle with.)
  5. What is your ideal work day like? (What time to you get up? What do you wear?  What is your schedule?  Are you alone or surrounded by people?)
  6. What makes you a good friend? (Are you a good listener, encouraging, supportive, handy, etc.?)
  7. If you had the means to solve one big problem in the world what would it be?
  8. What do you like to learn about?
  9. If you could snap your fingers and have your dream job right now what would it be?

After your child answers the questions, look for patterns:

  • Do the answers indicate your child seeks freedom and adventure? Or do they desire more structure?
  • Has your child felt most alive, happy, and excited when they’ve cared for others in their life? A caregiving role might be something they would like.
  • Is there a social problem in the world that infuriates your child beyond belief? Your child could study people who have fought for social change, against diseases, etc.)

Seven Things to Do Right Now

Here’s a short summary of what you can do right now to support your child’s career exploration:

  1. Start with the right attitude. Your encouraging attitude can boost your child’s confidence and excitement about their future.
  2. Talk with your child about their career dreams. No judgments!
  3. Share information about your career. Tell them about experiences and decisions that had an impact on your career.
  4. Help your child pinpoint their interests and strengths. Talk about which skills and activities could be useful for a career.
  5. Ensure that your child has explored career information using online resources like the software available at their school from United Way of Southwest Virginia and Inside Jobs.
  6. Encourage your child to plan for training after high school whether it’s through a technical institute, community college, or university.
  7. Keep talking with your child. Have an open door policy for changing ideas.  Planning for the future is not a one-time conversation, it’s ongoing.  Don’t forget you can keep up with your child’s journey through the Ignite Program through Power School or your parent portal.

A Short Note on Attitude

Remember: this is your child’s future, not yours.  While you are a huge part of helping your child explore careers, the process isn’t about you.  Your job is to coach them to successfully attain their goals.

Don’t start with no.  Shooting down your child’s ideas is one of the fastest ways to shut them down.  If they have a big or unrealistic career dream, encourage them to gather as much information as possible, then draw their own conclusions.

Above all…be positive!  Career decisions can seem scary or overwhelming – especially when you are in middle or high school.  Your positive and encouraging attitude will make a big difference.

The information provided in this section is adapted from Career Exploration for Childs: A Parent Guide to Starting the Career Conversation from Inside Jobs (www.insidejobs.com) and 7 Ways to Help Your Child Choose a Career by Kerry Petsinger.

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About our work in Education

United Way of Southwest Virginia is fighting for the education of the region by making sure children and youth can start school ready to succeed, become proficient readers at a young age, stay on track in middle school, earn their high school diploma, and pursue a higher education or career.