Charlotte USA provides comprehensive resources that ensure a ready supply of skilled workers and workforce development programs that meet the needs of the region's employers.
North Carolina’s 16-campus university system is an important economic development tool. UNC Charlotte, the largest institution of higher education in the Charlotte region, offers 21 doctoral, 64 master's and 90 bachelor's degree programs through nine colleges. It also has a variety of programs that offer companies extensive assistance in R&D, encompassing both facilities and personnel.
The 16-county region can also leverage nationally recognized state training programs in both Carolinas, and a host of partnerships among colleges, school systems, government and the private-sector have created innovative efforts that ensure employers in the region have access to workers with the skills they need. The North Carolina system is made up of 58 colleges that serve some 800,000 students, making it the third-largest system in the U.S. Its goal is to create a globally and multiculturally competent workforce through education, training, and retraining that includes basic skills and literacy education, as well as occupational and pre-baccalaureate programs.
Each college develops relationships with the industries in its service area and responds to their training needs with new and additional courses, certifications and degrees. Many businesses take advantage of NC Works, a collaborative customized training program, to meet their specific and specialized training needs.
The flagship of the system is Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, which has six campuses serving 70,000 students annually in Mecklenburg County. Among its industry-serving programs is Apprenticeship Charlotte, which connects talented students to local employers, providing selected students a valuable hands-on experience. Seven companies are enrolled in the program. One of them is Siemens Energy, where 18 apprentices were enrolled in early 2015. When students finish the four-year program, they have an associate degree in mechatronics, computer integrated machining, or diesel and heavy equipment technology and a journeyman’s certificate, plus a firm job offer. Siemens pays for their education.
Job Training for the Furniture Industry
Each community college in North Carolina has its own unique programs. Catawba Valley Community College, for example, is home to the Furniture Academy, begun in January 2014 and offers certifications in seven areas, such as pattern making and inside upholstery. Coursework can last up to 11 months; all 31 of the first graduates got jobs.
“What’s really cool about this is that five furniture companies came to us asking that we develop the curriculum. The industry cluster is working together for the good of the industry,” says Kristin Wright, director of CVCC’s Workforce Development Innovation Center. Her colleague, Lori Price, director of customized industry training, says the industry recognizes its need for trained employees as many of its current workers are reaching retirement age just as the domestic furniture business is rebounding.
“Business is returning from overseas," Price says. "They needed new workers yesterday. And these areas are crafts; it takes time to build skills sets.”
In Chesterfield County in South Carolina, Northeastern Technical College recently expanded its apprenticeship offerings with the addition of medical assistant programs at General Hospital and Marlboro Park Hospital.
"There is an increasing demand for high-skilled workers in the allied health field, as well as in the field of manufacturing. Apprenticeship programs such as this are making a huge impact in the development of a skilled local workforce," says Sherrie Chapman, NETC’s dean of continuing education.
NETC’s program is part of Apprenticeship CarolinaTM, a division of the statewide technical college system that assists companies developing apprenticeship programs. NETC also works with a number of other firms, many of them in the advanced manufacturing field, including Conbracco, INA USA and Palmetto Brick. The educational system’s efforts to create work-ready graduates begins at the high school level.
In North Carolina, Lincoln County Schools started its Manufacturing a Future that Works initiative in fall 2014 with grants from the Timken Foundation and the Golden Leaf Foundation totaling $835,000. The initiative also received support and technical assistance from the Industrial Manager’s Association and the Lincoln Economic Development Association. There are six components in the advanced manufacturing curriculum, with the first two taught at Lincoln’s four general high schools and the last four at the Lincoln County School of Technology.
“Without the support of private foundations and industry, it would be very difficult for us to come up with the money to make this possible,” says Dr. Cale Sain, director of career and technical education and principal of the School of Technology.