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Workforce Training in Charlotte, NC Boost Region’s Growth

Economic development organizations, community colleges and businesses team up to ensure Charlotte USA maintains a steady pipeline of highly skilled workers.

By Livability.com on August 4, 2014

Charlotte, NC
Charlotte / Courtesy of Ryan Case

Richard Zollinger knows the first question that will be asked in any economic development discussion.

“Are there skilled workers?” says Zollinger, vice president of instruction at Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC). “The answer is not only are there skilled workers, but we can quickly build a talent pipeline to serve emerging industries. We’re providing the tools to ensure future workforce guarantees. And that becomes very attractive to companies.”

In the 16-county region, economic development organizations, business leaders, governments, public schools and higher education institutions such as CPCC work in tandem to maintain a pipeline of highly skilled workers, which serves as an incentive for relocating and expanding companies.

On the Job Training 

In 2012, CPCC launched Apprenticeship Charlotte, a program modeled after the successful Apprenticeship 2000 training program that gives Charlotte area high school juniors and seniors hands-on experience, as well as a tuition stipend toward a technical degree at CPCC. Zollinger says the college wanted to take the best aspects of Apprenticeship 2000 to create a more customized program to meet the specific needs of local companies, such as Siemens, Daimler and Muratec.

Currently, the Apprenticeship Charlotte program partners with five companies, and Zollinger says the college is hoping to double that number within a year. The Apprenticeship Charlotte program is quickly gaining national attention. In May 2014, the college hosted the first annual Apprenticeship and Workplace Learning Conference for companies looking for solutions for recruiting and retaining talent.

Companies like Schaeffler Group-INA, a German-based manufacturer of rolling and plain bearings with operations in Cheraw, S.C., partners with Northeastern Technical College (NETC) through the nationally recognized Apprenticeship Carolina program to builds its workforce by developing specialized on-the-job training programs.

“The INA apprenticeship has been in place for more than 25 years and is the most successful apprenticeship program in the state, with over 87 percent retention rate of employees over that period of time,” says Dr. Ron Bartley, President of Northeastern Technical College.

Specialized Training Helps Boost the Bottom Line

Bartley says in addition to the apprenticeship program, NETC offers a range of training options to meet the workforce demands of new industries entering the region or existing industries looking to expand or retool. When Mohawk Carpet changed out its production equipment, NETC stepped in to retrain the nearly 40 percent of the company’s workforce who couldn’t operate the new machinery. When companies, such as Palmetto Brick Co. and Domtar, needed workers skilled in process manufacturing, NETC quickly developed a specialized program of courses.

“We have a strong relationship with our industries,” says Sherrie Chapman, dean of continuing education at Northeastern Technical College. “It is so strong that industries donate equipment to NETC, so we’re able to train students on the latest machines. We’ve even had a plant manager certified to be an instructor, so he has the first look at top graduates.”

In a similar effort to meet the increased demand for technical and vocational training, Stanly Community College (SCC) in Albemarle, N.C., opened the School of Advanced Manufacturing and Industrial Technologies (AMIT) in August 2014. The AMIT offers training in CNC/manual machining, welding, industrial systems technology, electrical lineman, HVAC, automotive collision repair and heavy equipment operations. Like Northeastern Technical College, SCC looked to regional companies and foundations, such as Duke Energy, Michelin, Golden Leaf, and Carnes-Miller Gear, for support and insight.

The college partnered with Carnes-Miller Gear to begin offering CNC machinist classes at its facility until the AMIT renovation could be completed, says Jeff Parsons, associate vice president of the School of Advanced Manufacturing and Industrial Technologies. Its welding program has partnered with Chicago Tube and Iron to offer an apprenticeship program through the North Carolina Department of Labor, and it is working on similar apprenticeship programs with local companies for its machining program.

SCC also plans to integrate soft skills training into its technical curriculum. Soft skills training helps students develop strong workplace abilities, such as timeliness, teamwork, organization and effective communication, that make them even more attractive to area employers.

“The industry feedback from the 2013 manufacturing community forum emphatically told us that we need to update the technical training provided in these programs,” Parsons says. “Equally important, those leaders also told us that they need employees who are not only technically competent, but also possess soft skills, or employability skills, that make for successful employees and successful businesses.”

Secondary Schools Close Skills Gap

Stanly Community College also developed welding and machining pathway curriculum for high school students through the Career and College Promise program, allowing those students to begin taking free college classes prior to high school graduation.

“We’re committed to teaching skills and competencies required to fill the emerging jobs in the region … and building a pipeline from secondary to postsecondary and ultimately to the workforce,” Parsons says.

That commitment to maintaining the flow of highly skilled workers is shared by Sheryl Nixon, director of career and technology education for Lincoln County Schools in North Carolina.

“As we studied the economic and education needs of Lincoln County and solicited feedback from [industry and economic development leaders], we determined that an advanced manufacturing program would better suit the current economic needs of Lincoln County, and that students graduating with skills in this area would be better suited to find quality employment in the area,” Nixon says.

In fact, of the 20,000-plus jobs in Lincoln County, more than 20 percent are manufacturing jobs, and manufacturing accounts for 25 percent of the county’s gross regional product.

Beginning with the 2014-2015 school year, Lincoln County Schools plans to introduce a manufacturing and advanced manufacturing curriculum in middle and high schools. Courses in middle school include STEM, manufacturing and robotics. The high school advanced manufacturing courses join programs in agriculture education, business, finance, information technology, marketing education, and technology engineering and design.

“Our biggest plus is our workforce,” says NETC’s Dr. Ron Bartley. “We compete with everyone else on location and incentives, but what makes us different from other regions is our workforce. And our industries will tell you that.”

Read more about the Charlotte region’s schools and workforce training options.

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