Vocational learning has evolved over the years. In the past, it referred to individuals learning particular skills in fields such as welding, plumbing and automotive services.Today’s vocational training looks vastly different.
Leading this trend are the partnerships community colleges are forging with business and industry. Companies are seeking out community colleges for customized training solutions. Why? Because community colleges are nimble. They’re able to quickly respond to shifting industry needs and create degree and training programs that meet the needs of the marketplace, preparing individuals for occupations that actually have available jobs.
Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) in Charlotte, N.C., has been successful spearheading this initiative, thanks to the unique approach it takes in developing a company’s talent pipeline from a consultant point of view. The college’s Workplace Learning team meets with potential employer partners to listen and understand their needs, making the best recommendation on how CPCC can assist them.
And the solutions vary. For some businesses, an apprenticeship program may provide the assistance needed, while work-based learning may be a better fit for another organization. However, with both solutions, the two most common issues being experienced by today’s organizations are addressed — closing the skills gap (the gap between the skills today’s workers have and the skills that today’s companies need from its employees) and meeting a need for skilled workers.
In 2012, CPCC announced the launch of Apprenticeship Charlotte, a new career-training program it would use to meet the specific needs of individual companies.
CPCC created Apprenticeship Charlotte by drawing on its experience with the successful Apprenticeship 2000 program, which focuses on high school students and serves about a dozen European manufacturing companies in the Charlotte region. Apprenticeship Charlotte offers multiple apprenticeship models, including associate degree, diploma and certificate options with multiple entry points from high school through experienced workers. The goal is to make apprenticeships more flexible to meet employer needs and provide shorter experiences to address critical workforce needs.
This approach gives students the opportunity to receive intensive, company-specific technical training and on-site, hands-on experience while earning credit toward a two-year degree in an in-demand field, such as mechatronics. The employer covers most, if not all, of the student’s tuition and fees, helping them build and develop a talent pipeline from the ground up, while providing students with the hands-on training they need to excel in the workforce.
Since its launch more than five years ago, the Apprenticeship program has generated seven employer partners, an 85 percent retention rate and more than 65 active apprentices working for a variety of employers, such as Siemens, Groninger USA, Cummins and others.
As a result, many students are prepared to enter some of today’s most demanding fields: mechatronics, mechanical engineering, computer integrated technology, diesel and heavy equipment, and others.
The Work-based Learning program provides an alternative workforce development solution to apprenticeships. It blends classroom learning with practical work experience. Instead of attending class in a traditional classroom, students work with an employer in a position directly related to their field of study, receiving academic credit either as an elective or as a required class.
When an organization chooses to participate in the Work-based Learning program, they gain access to the area’s top talent, trained CPCC students who are prepared to give the company the competitive edge it needs while they earn the college credit and practical experience necessary to enter today’s workforce.
Since its inception in 1986, the Work-based Learning program has grown steadily. The program was started thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Education and featured two programs of study — Automotive Technology and Business Administration. Today, the program boasts more than 250 students, almost 130 employers and 45 programs of study as more and more employers realize its many benefits.
One shining example of this model at work is the “Building with Our Veterans” program, a partnership with Mecklenburg County’s Land Use and Environmental Services Agency (LUESA) that was created in 2016 to help unemployed and under-employed veterans connect to sectors of the government that are lacking qualified, skilled candidates. During 2016, the program specifically sought to meet the critical need for code inspectors in the workforce.
As a result, five students worked as inspector trainees with the Code Enforcement Division of LUESA. The paid training was developed in conjunction with CPCC’s Construction Technologies Division. It consisted of 999 hours, taught students about code inspection regulations and helped them develop an understanding of construction sites.
In December 2016, all five students completed the coursework, earned the Building Code Inspector Certificate from the college and were eligible to apply for any available full-time positions with the Mecklenburg County Code Enforcement team in January 2017. All five students were hired by the county and the second cohort of students, consisting of four vets, started the program in January 2017.
Partnerships that Work
Since 1963, CPCC has prided itself on being a vital workforce development resource to both local residents and Mecklenburg County’s business and industry.
Helping it lead this charge are the college’s Workplace Learning programs, which combine onsite training with in-classroom education to create meaningful experiences that benefit both students and employers.
Working behind the scenes to make all of this happen is the college’s talented staff, who custom design each workplace learning initiative, matching students to the right employer and industry to ensure the right fit. It’s this customized training approach that continues to win the praise of the college’s employer.