Because North Carolina industry needs more nimble and responsive workforce training, the N.C. Community College System is proposing a $73.5 million budget request to expand jobs skills training and fill the jobs pipeline more quickly.
That 2017-18 budget request to the General Assembly reflects a continued emphasis on bridging a widening skills gap across the state. On Friday, Piedmont-Triad community college presidents gathered in Greensboro to discuss that budget and its potential impact on their respective campuses and communities.
Speaking at a press conference on the Greensboro campus of Guilford Technical Community College, ACC President Dr. Algie Gatewood said, “This year’s community college legislative agenda and our budget request is largely about one thing and one thing only: Better serving business and industry needs in our respective communities and enhancing workforce skills training.”
Gatewood joined peers at that regional rally which precedes the March 29 Community College Day in Raleigh. On that day, community college leaders will meet in Raleigh to promote the 2017-18 budget and meet with their local lawmakers to tout the economic development benefits of that request.
“The Community College system is the primary and lead agency that delivers workforce development training in our state. Folks, we are a key economic driver in the areas we serve,” Gatewood added at Friday’s rally in Greensboro.
This year’s budget focus is on building a highly-skilled workforce pipeline. In part, it proposes increasing funding for short-term non-credit workforce development – programs that quickly lead to an industry credential and more immediately moves those workers into business and industry.
Community colleges have traditionally offered two-year curriculum programs in such vocational-technical areas as Computer-Integrated Machining, Mechatronics, Welding, HVAC and automotive repair. In many instances, colleges cannot produce graduates fast enough to meet industry demand. In some instances, businesses contend that much-needed workers do not require two years of training.
Alamance Community College in recent years has launched a host of just-in-time workforce development programs to serve the local community. Examples include Pharmacy Technician, Plumbing, Geriatric Aide, Electrician, Nurse Aide. In these programs, a student can pick up the requisite skills in a semester, earn a certificate and immediately find a job.
However, these programs are only funded at about two-thirds the rate at which 2-year curriculum programs are funded. At a time when North Carolina needs more just-in-time workforce development programs, this funding disparity serves as a disincentive to provide those programs. The N.C. Community College System is asking for $15.3 million to bring funding parity.
The 2017-18 community college budget request also seeks $22.6 million to increase student completion rates and move those graduates into the workforce pipeline. That funding would be used to enhance and increase student tutoring, advising and counseling services.
Because community college students skew older and are often juggling part-time jobs or family obligations, they are more at risk of dropping out. They generally require a higher level of wrap-around student support.
N.C. Community Colleges are also lobbying for $1.1 million to add more career coaches across the state. Currently, 14 community colleges, including Alamance Community College, are piloting the career coach program in which college counselors are embedded in high schools to promote workforce training options and highlight well-paying careers. This year’s request would add 31 more career coaches – a response to bridging the “skills gap” in such areas as Machining, Welding, Engineering, and Mechatronics.
Leaders from Alamance Community College, Guilford Technical Community College, Forsyth Tech, Surry Community College, Davidson County Community College, Rockingham Community College and Randolph Community College met March 24 to highlight the 2017-18 legislative budget priorities they say will enhance industry recruitment, business retention and workforce development in their respective service areas.