The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

Local News

December 17, 2012

ECC seeks to fill workforce void

TARBORO — Experts say that more than 2.5 million manufacturing jobs are available nationwide, but they can’t be filled because the available workforce needs more training.

“In Edgecombe County, about 60 openings can’t be filled because of the lack of skilled workers,” says Dr. Paul Petersen, project manager for the North Carolina Advanced Manufacturing Alliance at Edgecombe Community College.

“With baby boomers retiring at increasingly higher rates, that number is expected to grow.”

Strengthened by a federal grant awarded a year ago, ECC’s advanced manufacturing program is ready to train quality workers to fill much-needed positions in the manufacturing industry.

“We just need to get them here,” says Dr. Petersen.

With new state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment and a stable of certified instructors, the college is in a position to churn out a new wave of highly trained workers in manufacturing.

But the biggest challenge since joining the N.C. Advanced Manufacturing Alliance — a consortium of 10 North Carolina community colleges — has been recruiting students.

Training for manufacturing jobs takes time, up to two years in some programs. Many prospective students need jobs sooner rather than later, especially those whose unemployment benefits have ended or those who did not qualify for assistance.

“I realize that their needs are often more immediate,” says Shari Dickens, the college’s recruiter/success manager for the alliance. “I know it’s a slow process, but if they would just stick it out, the market is there.

“I tell them they need a career, not just a job. If they will stick with it, manufacturing is coming back.”

Presently, nineteen students are enrolled in manufacturing programs at ECC. There is plenty of room for growth during the three-year grant.

“If we can get 25 students in each of the three years, that’s a success,” Dickens says.

One year ago, the U.S. Department of Labor awarded the N.C. Advanced Manufacturing Alliance $18.8 million to help train workers in the manufacturing industry. Edgecombe received more than $1.2 million, the college’s largest award ever.

Over the first year of the grant, ECC added new equipment and replaced aging equipment, some of which dated back to World War II.

The new equipment includes computer-controlled vertical milling machines and lathes, robots to service the lathes, and a robotic welder.

“Some were set up immediately, and the students loved it,” Dr. Petersen says. “Manufacturing is something every economy needs. We still have plenty of people looking for jobs. Those individuals are the ones we’re trying to reach.”

To sweeten the pot, Edgecombe Community College has funds available through the Back-to-Work program through the N.C. Department of Commerce.

Qualifying students can receive grant money for tuition, books, and supplies needed for the manufacturing program.

“We have everything in place to train people and to make it affordable for them,” Dr. Petersen assures.

“If the student qualifies under the Back-to Work grant, basically all the student has to do is get here.”

Though Dickens says she can’t promise a job to every student who enrolls in ECC’s manufacturing program, “I guarantee you will get the training you need at Edgecombe Community College,” she says.

“Then, you can go anywhere.”

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