Will Rikard, Executive Director

Will Rikard is the Executive Director for StepUp Wilmington, a leader in workforce development in the Cape Fear region of NC. During his seven-year tenure, the organization has grown to place over 200 jobs and serve over 400 individuals annually. StepUp Wilmington is a resource for unemployed and underemployed citizens in the Wilmington area. This non-profit partners with both adults and youth on how to get a job.



Will described that finding employment for participants is a two-step process in which participants start with the ‘Job Program’ as the first step. This step involves ‘Jobs Week’, during which participants learn the details of resumes, time management, appropriate dress code, and other details on how to prepare themselves for the job interview. Once Jobs Week is completed the non-profit works through a variety of avenues to find a job for participants.


Step 2 of the program is to work through long-term job stability. Participants work through an individual development plan that covers metrics on income and financial management, transportation, family situation, etc. to get to real job stability.


Normally, the program trains in person with about 15 new people every two weeks then works through job placement. With COVID, however, StepUp Wilmington tried moving to a more a virtual platform which resulted in its own challenges for the non-profit as it is tough for many people to communicate in a virtual environment as about half are internet insecure or don’t have a reliable internet connecting device. Child care and transportation issues also increases the dynamic for StepUp Wilmington to serve those in need. With the challenges of internet connectivity, Will said their program had changed again to a job focus operation where participants don’t need to meet online. This is a more individualized approach to offering training but if the participants can’t meet virtually they still work with them.

Of course there have been less jobs available due to COVID restrictions but there is also a participant fear factor with risk of contracting the virus in a particular job environment that might be open. Thus, some in higher COVID risk groups are fearful of accept a job that puts their health at risk.


New Things We Are Doing


Social enterprise staffing was launched in August with a business partnership manager added to place our talent into those available jobs with a goal of creating more employment plus generating revenue to support the non-profit’s ability to train participants.


Will also mentioned that StepUp Wilmington was selected for a grant from the Golden Leaf Foundation to expand the program into Pender and Brunswick counties. Although there is no planned physical presence in the two counties, the grant allows StepUp Wilmington to hire a person to focus on those two counties to recruit people and to get them into the program and then into jobs. Again social media, churches, and civic groups will be an important source of referrals as the program expands to Pender and Brunswick counties. He expects about 100 participants this next year in Pender with a 50% placement goal.

Questions from Kiwanians


How to make a referral?
–Referrals can be made by phone at 910 343 8469 or by internet at https://stepupwilmington.org/connect/contact-us-2/
What are employment goals – long-term vs short-term?
–Our goal is for participants to find long-term employment paying a living wage which is $12.20/hr for a single person and over $20 /hr for those supporting a family.
What kind of skill sets/qualifications are you looking for in participants?
–We seek people that are really motivated to want to work because this makes a difference in motivation from those that want to work versus those that don’t. Also, no pending criminal charges, no sex offenders, and/or have achieved a 90 day sobriety from substance abuse.
Where to you get referrals?
–Our referrals come by word of mouth from churches, non-profits, health care, social media and thus are really pretty broad based.

About Will Rikard

Will is a graduate of Wake Forest University, and played on the 1998 ACC championship baseball team. After college Will played five seasons of professional baseball in Europe and earned his MBA from American University. Will worked in the financial recruitment industry for 6 years in Washington, DC and Stockholm, Sweden before returning to his home state of North Carolina in 2012.