North Carolina consistently leads Southern states in workforce development, due in part to the NCWorks initiative that connects employers to the skilled workers or the customized employee training they need to prosper.
Launched in 2014, NCWorks aligns services and resources to meet the workforce needs of businesses while connecting North Carolinians to technical training and quality careers.
NCWorks is the industry gateway to critical workforce resources that have already helped North Carolina become the No. 1 state in the Atlantic region in workforce development. North Carolina ranks ahead of Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, Florida, West Virginia, Delaware and Maryland, according to Site Selection magazine.
The magazine’s data-driven study indicates how well states in a given region are “preparing their workforces for current and future employment.”
But fulfilling a company’s workforce needs is not one-size-fits-all. In recent years, for example, North Carolina’s responsiveness to employers has:
- Supported creative partnerships among companies in industries facing worker shortages, partnerships such as the Catawba Valley Furniture Academy.
- Provided hands-on training on state-of-the-art machinery at GE Aviation in West Jefferson, whose growing workforce is helping the company meet record global demand for its next-generation LEAP commercial jet engine.
- Fostered a variety of apprenticeship models from the nationally recognized, European-style partnership between Central Piedmont Community College and Siemens USA in Charlotte, where successful apprentices earn a well-paying job with the Germany-based manufacturer of gas and steam turbines, to regional apprenticeship consortiums that include several manufacturers sharing the costs of paid high school apprenticeships that lead to associate’s degrees, certifications and a job with a consortium company.
Case Study: The Catawba Valley Furniture Academy
When you’re a furniture maker, your skills have to be as strong as a customer’s imagination.
For years, Century Furniture has been one Hickory’s signature furniture producers, specializing in customized orders for everything from sofas to bedroom sets to bookshelves. When its buyers place an order, they might like the pre-existing pattern of a piece but prefer it be taller or have a different frame. Century needs workers who can do both basic tasks and fulfill custom orders.
“We were obviously having a difficult time in trying to hire skilled workers in our upholstery factors,” said Nina Greene, human resources director for Century Furniture. “Those individuals just were not out there.”
Century wasn’t alone. Lee Industries, Lexington Home Brands, Sherrill Furniture and Vanguard Furniture also struggled to find people to join an industry that many people wrongly believe to be dead. North Carolina’s furniture industry includes 3,000 businesses and a concentration of manufacturers that’s triple the national average.
That’s where the local NCWorks Career Center came in. The more than 80 career centers across North Carolina connect job seekers to employers by providing access to training for individuals and delivering pre-screening and recruiting services for businesses. All services are free of charge.
NCWorks supported discussions to figure out to help the five furniture companies find qualified workers. Those discussions resulted in the Catawba Valley Furniture Academy, created in January 2014.
The industry-driven program trains students in skills such as furniture fundamentals, pattern-making, manual cutting, automated cutting, sewing, introduction to upholstery, spring up, and inside and outside upholstery.
Academy graduates have a guaranteed job with one of the five participating furniture companies. So far, the academy has enrolled 106 students and graduated 67.
This fall the program is moving from its 6,000-square-foot training space at Catawba Valley Community College in Hickory to 38,000 square feet at a building in Newton. Catawba County is paying for most of the building cost.
“It’s been amazing,” said Bill McBrayer, human resources manager for Lexington Home Brands. “When we first started talking about it, nobody in their wildest dreams ever thought this academy would take off in the positive manner that it has taken.”
The academy helps participating manufacturers provide workforce training that doesn’t cut into production schedules. Partnering in the academy has contained costs for companies that were already paying overtime to fulfill contracts during a shortage of skilled labor.
“We do some in-house training… but you’d have to take someone off their job to train someone else and you [already] have limited capacity,” said Angi Houston, human resources manager at Lee Furniture. “Logistically, it was just smart to partner with other companies.”
Not Just Furniture
Manufacturers in many industries have successfully turned to NCWorks. For example, NCWorks has helped GE Aviation find workers for its $65 million machining-factory expansion in West Jefferson. The plant is assuming more machining work driven largely by orders for the highly fuel-efficient LEAP jet engine, a joint venture of GE Aviation and France-based Safran SA.
“NCWorks has done a lot of great things for us,” said Kory Wilcox, human resource lead for GE Aviation. “They sat in strategy meetings at our site and helped us decide how to most effectively find the right workforce to meet our needs.”
A few months after GE Aviation first met with NCWorks partners, Wilkes Community College hosted a hiring event where nearly 300 candidates completed applications. The college also held workshops that gave candidates tips on interviewing and insight into today’s manufacturing careers.
The High Country Workforce Development Board’s multifaceted marketing strategy for GE Aviation has included newspaper and web advertising, local television and radio spots, social media outreach and a direct mailing to dislocated manufacturing workers in the area. Local NCWorks Career Centers provided personal outreach to job seekers, offered one-on-one assistance with applications and resumes and hosted online skill assessments.
In addition, the NCWorks Customized Training program developed comprehensive hands-on training on advanced manufacturing machinery at a training center for prospective and current GE Aviation employees.
NCWorks also helps companies set up apprenticeship consortiums to help close a manufacturing skills gap. In 2015, for example, Guilford and Alamance counties each launched apprenticeship consortiums with the assistance of the NCWorks Apprenticeship program. Successful students in these programs learn mechatronics and earn an associate’s degree, a journeyman certificate and a job at a consortium company.
Barbara Gorman is the learning and development specialist at GKN Driveline, one of the manufacturers in Alamance County’s consortium, the Career Accelerator Program. “It’s an opportunity to grow your own talent…,” she said. “You can grow them from the ground up so they have not only the industry knowledge, but also the book knowledge, to be successful in your organization.”
If your company is interested in locating or expanding in North Carolina, email the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit edpnc.com. Employers can visit NCWorks.gov to connect with a career center.
Visit http://www.expansionsolutionsmagazine.com/north_carolina_ed for local economic development office directory listings.
Catawba Valley Community College
The Catawba Valley Furniture Academy is helping furniture manufacturers meet their immediate and future workforce by training students in skills such as furniture fundamentals, pattern-making, manual cutting, automated cutting, sewing, introduction to upholstery, spring up, and inside and outside upholstery.
Central Piedmont Community College and Siemens USA in Charlotte have a European-style apprenticeship partnership that is a national model. Students who complete the apprenticeship program earn an associate’s degree in advanced mechatronics and job with the Germany-based manufacturer of gas and steam turbines for power plants.