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Training Grounds: How Eastern North Carolina is Building a Workforce

Partnerships ensure the region’s workforce is trained and ready to fill in-demand jobs.

By Teree Caruthers on December 20, 2019

Eastern NC
Gray Whitley

A cornerstone of the Eastern North Carolina region’s economic success is its highly skilled workforce.

A key source of talent is the region’s network of community colleges that provide a wealth of training resources.

“Teaching and learning in academic programs, continuing education and customized training for business and industry focus on preparing students for successful careers,†says Greg McLeod, president of Edgecombe Community College (ECC) in Tarboro.

Eastern North Carolina is a Locality with Vitality

Smart Starts

The college also works closely with local school districts on dual enrollment and apprenticeship programs that let high school students gain college credits or work toward a program certificate while still in high school.

ECC has initiatives underway to develop and improve the local manufacturing workforce, which includes partnering with Edgecombe County schools to expose students to manufacturing careers.

“At no cost to them, high school students can earn college-level certificates in advanced manufacturing, industrial controls, engineering design, construction building, welding and supply chain management,†McLeod says. “All of these certificates can be applied toward ECC diploma or degree programs. Once students complete high school and enroll at ECC, 24 degree, diploma and  certificate opportunities are available in manufacturing-related fields.”

Eastern NC
Courtesy of Edcombe Community College/Ron Sowers

Hands-On Learning

ECC teamed up with Keihin Carolina System Technology, a manufacturer of precision systems for the automotive and powersports industry in Tarboro, and SouthWest Edgecombe High School to educate students on the vast opportunities manufacturing has to offer right at their doorstep, whether it be a production position, technical, administration or growth opportunities into a management position with tuition reimbursement opportunities.

“Most students think they have to move out of the area to gain meaningful employment,†says Connie Hunt, Keihin Carolina’s human resources manager. “The apprenticeship program provides valuable insight to students to help them determine what career path they want to pursue and what field of study supports their interest if they decide to go to college.”

Manufacturing the Workforce

In addition, two construction projects will enable ECC to better develop and sustain a skilled manufacturing workforce. The Center for Innovation on the Tarboro campus will provide high school and adult students with hands-on access to the latest technologies and practices found in advanced manufacturing. McLeod says the center is nearing completion and will open for classes in January 2020.

The Kingsboro Training Center at the Kingsboro Megasite will serve employees of a planned high-tech tire manufacturing facility as well as other manufacturers through training programs for prospective and current employees.

Eastern NC
Courtesy of Edcombe Community College

Partnering for Success

Lenoir Community College is also working to shore up the workforce in manufacturing and meet the demands of local manufacturers. The college started the Manufacturing Academy, a short-term training program that gives students the basic skills businesses need as well as the third-party credentials those jobs require.

“We see ourselves really as a lifetime partner to local businesses, not only providing a new workforce, but also helping maintain that workforce through training and improving their skill set as they move along their careers,†says Rusty Hunt, president, Lenoir Community College.

Hunt says local industry leaders serve in an advisory capacity for the college to ensure the curriculum stays up to date with workforce needs.

“We go a step further than that and actually meet with our individual business and industry partners on an ongoing basis,†Hunt says.

Money Well Spent: All Aboard in Eastern North Carolina

Regional Approach

The colleges also collaborate with four year institutions, such as East Carolina University, on dual admission programs that offer structured pathways for progressing directly from an associate to a bachelor’s degree.

“That regional approach is important. Businesses are looking for more and more folks, and they need high school graduates; they need internships; they need two-year graduates; they need four-year graduates,†Hunt says. “Those partnerships with not only our local K-12 systems, but also up the chain to our four-year partners at ECU and UNC Wilmington, NC State and others help create a pathway for students to not only see themselves in a specific career but also to grow their careers within that business and industry.”

Eastern NC
Gray Whitley

Talking the Talk

NCEast Alliance, the region’s leading economic development organization, will receive $150,000 over two years from Golden LEAF to help develop the STEM Northeast Network in several northeastern North Carolina counties. The grant helps to design a regional professional learning program that focuses on a series of one-day Career- Connected Project Based Learning (PBL) workshops for middle school teacher teams. The PBL workshops blend STEM themes while instructing teachers about important area industries, like construction, advanced manufacturing and marine trades, and teacher teams meet and learn from regional industry experts. The goal is for teachers to gain valuable, authentic insight to inform middle school students about the many career opportunities available throughout Eastern North Carolina.

Nice Twice

Elizabeth City State University (ECSU) signed two major agreements in 2019. The first established a partnership so that students at three North Carolina community colleges have the opportunity to transfer and continue their degree work at the four-year ECSU. Those colleges are Guilford Technical Community College, Lenoir Community College and Sandhills Community College. The second agreement establishes a greater relationship with the U.S. Coast Guard, with the university helping to train future service members to become Coast Guard pilots. Elizabeth City is home to the Coast Guard’s second-largest aviation base. The Coast Guard will pay tuition at ECSU for students to earn their bachelor’s degree in aviation science. At the end of the ECSU training program, graduates can advance to the Coast Guard’s Officer Candidate School.

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