Grant would boost ‘Back-to-Work’ effort

The Business Journal

September 14, 2012

This summer, the North Carolina General Assembly allocated $5 million in funds for the N.C. Community College System to address the training needs of the long-term unemployed through the North Carolina Back-to-Work program. Last month, we learned that our three institutions, Davidson County Community College, Forsyth Technical Community College, and Guilford Technical Community College would receive a total of $2.1 million of this allocation to train Piedmont Triad residents in skills that match current job openings.

This funding will allow the three colleges to continue and expand industry-driven training programs that give students valuable skills in a short period of time. Programs will integrate technical training with soft skills training, employability training and third-party certifications to maximize worker readiness. By partnering with each other, employers and work force development boards and other agencies, the colleges will be able to match training and certifications with areas of workforce demand.

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Text of full article:

As presidents of Piedmont Triad community colleges, we all have a commitment to monitoring the work force needs in our region. While job losses in the Triad have finally slowed, the unemployment rate is stuck around 10 percent, meaning there remain significant numbers of unemployed workers. Coming out of this last recession, we see employers search for qualified workers while many individuals find themselves sidelined from the work force and unable to meet the requirements for the skilled jobs that are available. As the weak job growth continues, many of these workers have now lost the unemployment benefits designed to carry them to the next employer.

This summer, the North Carolina General Assembly allocated $5 million in funds for the N.C. Community College System to address the training needs of the long-term unemployed through the North Carolina Back-to-Work program. Last month, we learned that our three institutions, Davidson County Community College, Forsyth Technical Community College, and Guilford Technical Community College would receive a total of $2.1 million of this allocation to train Piedmont Triad residents in skills that match current job openings. The State Board of Community Colleges estimates that there are 20,000 people in the service areas of our colleges that have exhausted their unemployment benefits during the past year.

The needs are critical on the employers’ side as well. We are routinely contacted by companies asking us to initiate or accelerate training for such diverse positions as electrical linemen, run-and-repair mechanical specialists and facility maintenance technicians for local apartment complexes. We are already engaged in regional discussions about building the Triad’s capacity for advanced manufacturing training, both to address the existing needs of manufacturers and to sustain the continued growth of the aviation and heavy-equipment industries in the Piedmont Triad. The North Carolina Back-to-Work program provides funding to target these much-requested training programs to employees who do not yet meet the requirements for hiring.

This funding will allow the three colleges to continue and expand industry-driven training programs that give students valuable skills in a short period of time. Programs will integrate technical training with soft skills training, employability training and third-party certifications to maximize worker readiness. By partnering with each other, employers and work force development boards and other agencies, the colleges will be able to match training and certifications with areas of workforce demand. Our priorities include skills related to advanced manufacturing (i.e., welding and machining), and computer and information technology.

We are most excited about this program’s focus on third-party, industry-recognized certifications. These credentials communicate to employers the precise training and skill competency of the potential employee. Certifications are usually issued by an occupational or industry group to indicate completion of certain training, coursework, apprenticeship or other preparation for a particular skill or job category. Many jobs require some form of industry certification as a prerequisite to hiring, with attainment based on industry developed assessments. We will offer a variety of credentials, some developed by professional associations or industry groups (such as the American Welding Society), and others by individual companies (e.g. Microsoft or Cisco) that offer proprietary training and certification in the use of particular products or equipment. We hope the credentials will also prompt residents to continue their educations, even after their employment. We believe the North Carolina Back-to-Work program can significantly expand the certifications held in our region, strengthening its work force and enabling our companies to be more.

This editorial is a collaboration among Mary Rittling, president of Davidson County Community College, Gary Green, president of Forsyth Technical Community College, and Randy Parker, president of Guilford Technical Community College.