Sunday, July 14, 2024

Economic development: Training N.C.

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Businesses expanding in North Carolina are creating thousands of jobs. Colleges and universities, along with public and private sector partners, are uniting
to fill them with skilled workers.

Kelly Sivy grew up with old-time music playing in the background and always loved it, but it wasn’t until she moved to Alaska to pursue her career as a wildlife researcher that her love bloomed into full-blown passion.

“My friend gave me a super cheap fiddle and I was
sort of scratching away, trying to figure out how to play it,” she says.

She started sitting in at local jam sessions in Fairbanks and became a fan of Joe Thrift, a celebrated musician and violin maker in Elkin. This year, she is one of his apprentices, splitting her time between North Carolina and Alaska.

 She has crafted four violins and has even sold one.

Thrift, who is revered in the world of old-time music, was once an apprentice too.

“I learned to play music by ear, and stumbled into old-time music, and this is the life I have chosen,” he says. “I went to work as an apprentice at a guitar factory and was in a moneyback band, which means if you bought a ticket to fiddlers’ conventions and played on stage, you got your money back.”

He now teaches at Surry Community College.

“I love that I am giving back, and I also love providing information and passing along the craft,” he says.

Sivy, Thrift, and Ben Masterson of Elkin participate in the unique North Carolina In These Mountains Appalachian Folklife Apprentice program. Funded by the N.C. Arts Council, the program supports yearlong apprenticeships in the folk and traditional arts across the
Appalachian Regional Commission’s 31 counties in North Carolina.

The three musicians split a $10,000 grant which funds their apprenticeship.

North Carolina has had a robust folklife program since the 1970s, says Zoe van Buren, director of the N.C. Arts Council’s Folklife program.

“We started our version of an apprenticeship program in 2018 to preserve the future of our cultural practices,” van Buren says. “Apprenticeships are time-tested foundational pieces of folklife programs.”

Apprenticeships are considered the gold standard of learning a skill or a trade. Whether it’s arts, early childhood education, or advanced manufacturing, apprenticeships can pave the pathway to a new career by providing hands-on learning while paying a salary.

Apprenticeships also help fill the workforce gaps in the post-pandemic economy and fill jobs at businesses and industries located in North Carolina.

Many apprenticeships are registered at ApprenticeshipNC, a program administered through the N.C. Community College System, which works with employers to develop and approve apprenticeship programs across the state.

“If it’s a registered apprenticeship, that means we’ve approved it, and in turn, the individuals registered in those apprenticeship programs qualify for federal or state credentials,” says Dale Yarborough, ApprenticeshipNC field supervisor.

Any employer can register apprenticeships, Yarborough says. And there are no limitations to the number of apprenticeships an employer can offer.

“That’s part of the flexibility of apprenticeship,” he says. “Whether a small mom–and–pop shop, or a huge corporation, any employer can get involved with apprenticeships.”

And while alignment with a community college is not required, the education partnership can offer a classroom education and provide resources for employers to help them coordinate classwork with on-the-job training.

Twenty-one students, representing 11 golf courses, make up the first cohort of the USGA Greenkeeper Apprenticeship Program in Moore County.

USGA hosts greenkeeper apprenticeship
Last year, the United States Golf Association aligned with Sandhills Community College to create a unique greenkeeper apprenticeship.

Caring for the turf is one of the most important jobs at a golf course, says Jordan Booth, an agronomist with the USGA, based in Pinehurst.

“Giving people the opportunity to make greenkeeping a career by helping them develop their skills and education is a main goal of our program,” he says.

Next summer, Pinehurst will host the USGA U.S. Open for the fourth time in 25 years. The resort is on target to become a major golf hub, and the home of the USGA’s new Golf House and the Hall of Fame.

The apprenticeship program grew out of a labor shortfall in the golf course maintenance industry, caused partly because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We had a real shortage of people that wanted to work on the golf course,” Booth says.

Booth viewed the turfgrass management program at Sandhills Community College as an opportunity to create a partnership through ApprenticeshipNC, Moore County Partners in Progress, Pinehurst Resort, Pine Needles, MidPines and others.

“It’s really a collaboration between the partner golf courses, the USGA, and the community college system,” he says. “It’s been wonderful to be a part of and a way to support the local community.”

Since starting in 2022, the apprenticeship program has reached its capacity of 20 students of all ages, from their 20s into their 60s. They work as paid employees at local golf courses, Booth says.

“The students are engaged, educated, driven to produce and be a part of the
team,” he says.

Gov. Roy Cooper talks to a classroom as part of the Building Bright Futures program.

Apprenticeship programs in North Carolina also fill teacher shortages, especially in the field of early childhood education, where experience matters when it comes to teaching and caring for the smallest and most vulnerable in our population.

Apprenticeships fill teacher gaps
Building Bright Futures, a pilot program that supports early childhood pre-apprenticeships and apprenticeships in North Carolina, grew out of the North Carolina Business Committee for Education, says program director Morgan Ford.

The Building Bright Futures program combines hands-on training with related coursework, offering both pre-apprenticeships for high school students and paid apprenticeships for community college students.

In addition, pre-school center owners, directors and teachers are tasked with hosting and mentoring apprentices and receive stipends for taking on the extra responsibility,
Ford says.

“It’s important they get paid because they are guiding the future of this needed workforce and taking extra time out of an already busy job,” she says.

Launched last May, Building Bright Futures is a partnership between The N.C. Business Committee for Education and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ division of child development and early education.

“Each apprenticeship is different,” Ford says. “Individual employers decide what their requirements are, and hiring apprentices is like hiring a regular employee.”

Currently, Building Bright Futures supports 37 organizations and works with community colleges across the entire state, she adds.

According to a report by the N.C. Department of Commerce, before the pandemic,
the early childhood education workforce was on the rise, with 36,967 teachers projected
in 2021 based on growth trends. But employment fell short, with 33,847 teachers
actually employed.

“Apprenticeships are a wonderful way to help address this gap in the workforce,” Ford says.

“They’re flexible, easy to customize and provide a way to recruit quality employees who are dedicated and willing to work hard.”

Experienced engine builders, many with NASCAR backgrounds, teach students at the Universal Technical Institute.

Unique opportunities in
Iredell County

In Iredell County, career awareness starts early, according to Jennifer Bosser, president and
CEO of the Iredell County Economic Development Corp.

“We promote careers for kids starting in the sixth grade,” she says. “This year, we hosted Career on Wheels, a career awareness fair with 60 employers and 1,000 students to showcase careers across a variety of local industries.”

Iredell County, just north of Charlotte, has the fourth–highest average wage in the state at $64,334, and a 91% high school graduation rate, Bosser says. The county’s targeted business sectors are manufacturing, financial services, agriculture, logistics, information technology and health care and life sciences.

Mitchell Community College is a strong partner and partners with local industries through its Apprenticeship Iredell program.

About seven years ago, Universal Technical Institute, an education provider for students seeking careers as automotive, diesel, collision repair, motorcycle and marine technicians, partnered with Roush Yates Engines to create a Computerized Numerical Control Machining program in Mooresville. The city is also home to the NASCAR Technical Institute.

Since launching the program, Roush Yates Engines has hired more than 120 graduates. Mitsubishi Materials USA Corp. is now part of the partnership. Both companies offer apprenticeships for CNC machining students, giving them an opportunity to gain hands–on, real–world experience while continuing their education.

Most recently, Jet East, a mechanical company that maintains private jets opened an operation in Statesville with plans to hire 250 employees. Thanks to a customized plan the Iredell EDC helped create to recruit employees, the company has started working with Mitchell Community College and the county school system to develop an airplane mechanic curriculum, including a summer enrichment program for young people.

“It’s a good feeling to develop a project in concept, but it’s amazing to actually see it unfold in real life, when you can work with partners to develop innovative ways for a new company to be successful,” Bosser says.

Iredell’s latest venture is Iredell Ready, an initiative designed to help students and adults identify opportunities to pursue individual career pathways and employment with industry in the county.

“We have an enormous number of service programs already in place,” Bosser says. “We created Iredell Ready to amplify our efforts to connect those programs to our students and our residents and get businesses involved as well.”

Whether it’s the arts, education, golf, or NASCAR, growth is rampant in all economic sectors across the state, and with that growth comes opportunities for apprenticeships to fill workforce needs while providing good careers for those who need them.

At ApprenticeshipNC, Yarborough estimates that about 90% of apprentices continue on at the companies and organizations that hired them after they complete their training.

“It’s a great opportunity for apprentices, because their career pathway is identified and they know right up front what they can expect to gain from that career,” he says.
“Many earn an associate degree while they’re in training, and when they complete
their apprenticeship, they receive a credential stating that they are fully qualified to
do their job.”

In Moore County, where golf is king, the greenkeeper apprenticeship is the stuff of dreams for those who enjoy laboring with their hands and being part of Pinehurst’s storied legacy.

“For folks that love being outside, watching the sunrise every day, being part of a team and seeing the results of their work are the best parts,” Booth says.

Ben Masterson

And in Elkin, Masterson, recalled picking up his first guitar at the age of 12 and teaching himself to play the Americana music he grew up listening to in rural northern Wisconsin.

A self-described musical hobo, he worked at a music shop and played local gigs in Oregon before moving across the country where his apprenticeship has helped him find his niche in crafting violins and teaching music at the Reeves Downtown School of Music. He also teaches traditional woodworking at the Foothills Arts Center.

“Joe helped me find my path and get my foot in the door,” he says. “This apprenticeship has changed my life completely.”

— Teri Saylor is a freelance writer from Raleigh.

For 40 years, sharing the stories of North Carolina's dynamic business community.

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