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Friday, March 1, 2024

Craven Community College helping manufacturers find the right job fit

Five days of job training at a community college may sound like a small investment, but those few days of getting prospective employees manufacturing experience has paid off for BSH Home Appliances in New Bern.

Manufacturing is not for everyone, and we know that,” says Jamie Barnes, a senior human resources employee at BSH. “But we want to make sure that we get the right people for the right jobs.”

The Volt Center at Craven Community College has become a steady supplier of workers for manufacturing companies like BSH in New Bern.

Barnes was speaking to a group of about 75 other manufacturers Friday on the second day of the Manufacturing Conference held in Winston-Salem sponsored by Business North Carolina and North Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership. She was joined by Eddie Foster with Craven Community College, who helps oversee its job-training program known as the Volt Center.

German-based BSH opened in New Bern in 1987 with 280 employees. The company, which manufactures dishwashers, ranges, ovens and other home appliances under brand names such as Bosch and Thermador, now employs 1,600 workers in the coastal North Carolina city.

BSH was experiencing an employee turnover rate of around 60% until it started working with Craven Community College in 2020 on a training program to get prospective employees “a taste” of what it’s like to work in manufacturing, says Barnes. That turnover rate has now shrunk to about 18%.

“It’s really to get a pipeline of candidates,” says Barnes. Many of those working for BSH come from either retail or home healthcare, which is much different than working in manufacturing.

The problem was, Barnes says, BSH would hire good people, but not particularly good fits for the jobs they were going to be expected to perform on its manufacturing floor.

The Volt Center works by giving prospective employees an idea of what it will be like working on the manufacturing floor of BSH, as well as other manufacturers. Instructors will time students on tasks such as assembling a dish carriage for a dishwasher to see if that type of work is for them.

Manufacturing work can be physically demanding and repetitive, and not the type of work where everyone thrives, Foster said.

The Volt Center works with a number of local manufacturers, including Moen, which manufactures kitchen and bath faucets, and Hatteras Cabo Yachts, to provide specific job training, Foster said. Those companies supply the college with tools and equipment to make the free training work for their needs.

Craven College started the Volt Center in 2015, using a 7,500-square-foot abandoned electric plant in downtown New Bern. It started with the basics, including electrical, HVAC, construction, plumbing and small engine repair training, but has since partnered with local manufacturers for specific training, and added skills from forklift operators, bartending, welding and law enforcement training, among others. 

The Volt Center aims to get nontraditional students into the workforce quicker, Foster says, even in programs like welding, which takes hundreds of hours of training. The key is providing employers with a group of people who possess needed skill sets.

The Volt Center does some traditional marketing of its programs, but finds most of its students come in through word-of-mouth recommendations. Instructors and others also make regular visits to area high schools to attract students.

Foster encouraged the other manufacturers to seek out help in filling jobs with their local community colleges, pointing out that with 58 community colleges in the state there is one located within at least 75 miles of every location in North Carolina.

While the goal is to provide employers with skilled workers, the Volt Center also changes the lives of those who come through the program. Foster talked of getting a bear hug from a former student who had come to the Volt Center after getting out of prison. The man had come to show Foster his first paycheck at his new job.

“It makes your heart go pitter patter a little bit because you’ve been involved in something life changing,” says Foster.

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