When regional manufacturers expressed a need for an expanded pool of strong candidates, leaders from Cabarrus and Rowan counties banded together and sprang into action with a solution: creation of the North Carolina Manufacturing Institute.
The innovative program – a joint initiative between Cabarrus Economic Development, Cabarrus Regional Chamber of Commerce, NCWorks, Rowan County Chamber of Commerce, Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, RowanWORKS and Centralina Workforce Development – offers workforce training and certification to help bridge the gap between high-quality job seekers and available manufacturing positions. In August, the inaugural class of 12 students graduated with Manufacturing Skill Standards Council Certified Production Technician certifications.
“We were hearing from industries that there wasn’t a large enough pool of candidates with technical degrees and we needed to build a more qualified workforce to put more candidates into the funnel,” said LeeAnn Nixon, existing industry specialist with Cabarrus Economic Development. “We were so pleased to have a 100-percent graduation rate for the first class to complete the program. There’s been tremendous interest and already three more classes are in the pipeline.”
Over the course of eight weeks and 160 hours, students concentrate on four modules: quality practices and measurement, safety, manufacturing processes and production, and maintenance awareness. Course instructors are current and former senior-level manufacturing plant managers – people who have “lived out the methods and tools” required for the industry, Nixon said.
Not only do students study the technical side of manufacturing, they also learn about the soft skills required to be a successful employee. “From day one, the curriculum integrates the importance of dedication and showing up to work on time by having the students punch a time clock,” she said.
While the program is still new, it’s already well on its way to helping close the manufacturing skills gap and improve the image of manufacturing job opportunities.
“The ultimate goal is to get people employed, but businesses also know we have to create awareness about manufacturing and change the perception,” Nixon said. “We all have to work together to educate our region – especially the younger generation – and let them know manufacturing is clean with tremendous advances in technology and competitive pay and benefits.”
NCMI’s innovative funding and operational structure works like this: Business partners contribute $1,000 toward recruiting and training new students. Interested individuals attend a free discovery session, complete a scholarship application and undergo pre-employment screening. Approved and verified candidates enter the training program at no charge. Upon course completion, graduates participate in a reverse interview, where they have an opportunity to explore job opportunities with multiple business partners. If an offer is extended and accepted, the business partner contributes another $1,000 back to the program after 90 days.
Nixon said the region uses the program as a recruiting tool to show businesses what it’s doing locally to promote hiring and job retention, but it also shows how the county takes care of meeting current business needs. “It really is a great example of working together to benefit the entire region. Members of our community are matched with good jobs and manufacturing companies are matched with employees who are already trained and reliable.”