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GOLDEN LEAF FOUNDATION: Alamance Community College builds skilled workforce for local manufacturing jobs

Reprinted from Golden LEAF Foundation Newsletter:

Manufacturing is one of Alamance County’s major employers, according to Scott Doron, Grants Officer at Alamance Community College. With the automation of manufacturing, the skills needed for these jobs are highly technical and require training on complex equipment. Golden LEAF has helped secure the equipment needed to train the advanced manufacturing workforce in Alamance County through two awards.

In February 2016, the Golden LEAF Board of Directors awarded Alamance Community College $199,097.07 to purchase an automation training system to offer hands-on training in the field of mechatronics. A survey of advanced manufacturing companies in Alamance County showed  there would be 200 positions over the next five years requiring the targeted skill sets of the mechatronics program. Golden LEAF funding was used to purchase and install training equipment and support instructor training.

“From the standpoint of jobs for students in mechatronics, we have more demand for our students than we can supply,” said Roland Roberts, Head of the Mechatronics Department at Alamance Community College. “We get requests from companies for graduates or near graduates on a regular basis. We get requests from a number of smaller companies as well as big ones that include ABB, ITG Brands, American Foods, Honda, Shawmut, and others.”

Positions related to the area of mechatronics provide a living wage and a good working environment. Roberts said starting wages are typically in the $23 per hour range, and can be a bit higher or lower depending upon the size of the company and the position.

“For the most part, you will find that the manufacturing environment is a clean, comfortable environment,” said Roberts. “This is due to the vast amounts of automation that are now in place.”

From spring 2016 to spring 2017, more than 800 incumbent workers were trained. Alamance Community College reported 18 graduates of programs with 35 certificates earned and 11 participants reported being hired in the field. There were 15 participants in an apprenticeship program.

In December 2019, the Golden LEAF Board awarded $197,391.37 to Alamance Community College to purchase specialized advanced manufacturing equipment that will allow the college to offer hands-on machining training that mimics workplace conditions. In new and existing courses, which were requested by local employers, students will be taught the operation, troubleshooting, programming, and other principles of computer-integrated machining processes. A survey of ten major manufacturing businesses with machining-related processes in Alamance County indicated the need to fill approximately 200 computer-integrated machining positions in the next three to five years. Over one semester, students have earned 18 credentials, two certificates and four have participated in work-based learning experiences.

“Both of these awards give our students training on state-of-the-art technology-oriented equipment that our companies are already using,” said Doron. “If we did not have Golden LEAF funding, we would be training our students for manufacturing jobs on outdated technology. Golden LEAF allows us to keep up with the rapidly changing and highly technical manufacturing equipment that our manufacturers use. Golden LEAF provides a niche funding that rural areas cannot get anywhere else.”

Recently, Golden LEAF President, Chief Executive Officer Scott T. Hamilton sat down with Tracy Doaks, the President and Chief Executive Officer of MCNC via Zoom and filmed the fifth episode in our Critical Conversations video series. In this series, Scott talks with professionals about economic development issues affecting the state.

Doaks provided her perspective on North Carolina’s broadband connectivity resources.

During the conversation, Doaks explained the creation of MCNC, services MCNC provides, and the leadership role MCNC plays in our state’s technology innovation. MCNC focuses on delivering high performance internet and networking, cloud services, cybersecurity, and other essential technologies for communities throughout North Carolina. MCNC’s 4,000-mile backbone, the North Carolina Research and Education Network (NCREN), supports community anchor institutions in all 100 counties. Doaks relayed that over 10,000 North Carolina community anchor institutions are connected to the NCREN network. Anchor institutions include the state’s colleges and universities, education-related nonprofits, healthcare, k-12 institutions, libraries, cultural institutions, public safety, research institutions, and state and local governmental entities.

Connectivity and availability of broadband is at the forefront of many discussions since the pandemic sent many students and workers home. Internet was a necessity to keep people connected. In April 2010, the Golden LEAF Board of Directors awarded MCNC $24 million to leverage more than $100 million in federal funding. Through the Golden LEAF Rural Broadband Initiative, Golden LEAF played a critical role in providing needed matching funding to help MCNC build a network of more than 1,696 miles of high-speed broadband, especially in rural communities. Doaks said that there are now more than 4,000 miles of high-speed broadband fiber in MCNC’s network and that it covers from Murphy to Manteo and places in between. This network provided many institutions with the bandwidth needed for schools to connect with students and for people working from home to connect to needed resources.

Although NCREN provides connectivity to anchor institutions, there is still a need for broadband to homes and businesses. Doaks said that MCNC is working on partnerships across the state using wireless technology, where fiber is not going to be able to be laid. She said MCNC is working on five proof of concepts with partners that, if successful, can be replicated across the state.

Lastly, Doaks mentioned that robust plans have been in place for broadband, and with pandemic recovery, there is a once in a lifetime opportunity to use funding to build out better broadband. She provided information about funding from the Federal American Rescue Plan, U.S. Department of Commerce Department’s NTIA, the national budget and the Governor’s State budget plans to support broadband infrastructure. There is even funding to help individuals with affordability issues related to connecting to internet service providers. She said, while MCNC can build broadband to anchor institutions in areas of need, and other providers can provide the connections to homes and businesses.

Critical Conversations is a new feature in the Golden LEAF newsletter every month. The next edition will be in our October 14th edition of LEAF Lines.