Perspective | How northeastern NC organizations are working together to connect people to jobs

Right now, many industries in North Carolina are struggling to find the right mix of talent, experience, and credentials in the labor market. It’s going to take a collaborative approach to workforce development to fill available jobs. The Golden LEAF Foundation is proud to do its part to connect North Carolinians to quality jobs in these vital fields.

Last week, Golden LEAF held its first round table at Elizabeth City State University (ECSU) focused on the needs of industry and how local workforce development organizations are preparing workers for these critically needed jobs. We have made it our mission to increase economic opportunity across the state, especially in rural and tobacco-dependent regions. To that end, the Golden LEAF Foundation has funded a total of $8.9 million to support economic development in Pasquotank County. Of that amount, $7 million supported workforce development projects that help prepare workers in the northeast region for employment.

We fully understand the importance of these investments in our local workforce. Investing in workforce development leads to economic advancement. With economic advancement comes prosperity. Prosperity helps create jobs, and jobs offer hope, opportunity, and dignity.

Participants in the Golden LEAF Workforce Roundtable held at ECSU on January 29, 2020 included officials from ECSU, Elizabeth City Pasquotank Public Schools, College of the Albemarle, Northeast Academy for Aerospace and Advanced Technologies (NEAAAT), River City Community Development Corporation, Rep. Bobby Hanig, Rep. Howard Hunter, Sen. Bob Steinburg, Golden LEAF President, Chief Executive Officer Scott T. Hamilton, Golden LEAF Board member Barry Dodson, and Golden LEAF Program Officer Miranda Dalton. Courtesy of Golden LEAF Foundation

That is why funding workforce programs and supporting local workforce development organizations is such a priority. But we cannot do this work alone. Together with regional universities and community colleges, local school systems, and our economic development partners across the state, we can make greater strides in improving our workforce in ways that will lead more to a successful and thriving workplace.

At our workforce roundtable, we heard from a College of the Albemarle (COA) graduate who is now an employee at Hockmeyer Equipment Corporation. He was hired before he finished the welding program at COA and is now working as a welder and customer service team member. Hockmeyer’s General Manager and Vice President of Manufacturing Mike Villardi talked about the importance of the quality workforce coming out of the community college’s welding program and the need for even more skilled workers to fill the company’s plans for expansion in Elizabeth City.

On a tour to the Elizabeth City Airport, we met a 22-year-old flight instructor from Person County, North Carolina. The first time he had ever been in an airplane was when he flew one as part of his Aviation Science Program courses at ECSU. He had heard about this program through a friend and knew that this was the opportunity for him to have a successful career.

Golden LEAF has supported this program at ECSU by providing equipment such as flight simulators, drones, simulation air traffic control, and aviation lab computers. It has helped the program double in size and created collaborations such as a 2+2 program with COA, dual enrollment with local public schools, and agreements with the Coast Guard.

Golden LEAF President and CEO Scott Hamilton in a flight simulator. Courtesy of Golden LEAF

Other partners such as the River City CDC, which also participated in the roundtable, help to identify and serve those citizens who face challenges to employment and therefore do not have the skills necessary to be successful in the workforce. Those facing barriers to employment have a chance to receive the resources and services to help them succeed through River City CDC’s TeachBUILD program, which provides training in financial literacy, information systems, business development and entrepreneurship. TeachBUILD also provides an apprenticeship-training program that includes GED preparation, leadership training and skill development in the areas of construction or information systems technology. Golden LEAF knows that these resources can help fill the urgent need for industry workers. In fact, Golden LEAF created a short-term initiative called Golden LEAF Opportunities for Work (GLOW) that can help everyone have the chance to reenter the workforce successfully.

None of these examples is an isolated success story that lives in a vacuum. By working collaboratively with educators, industry and other partners, we help elevate the programs that provide our workforce with a great job and a thriving career. Even those who face barriers to employment have a way to get back on the path to a successful career through innovative programs like TeachBUILD.

We see in Elizabeth City what success for a region can look like when everyone is at the table working together. While much has been accomplished, there is still more to do. But doing it together is the recipe for prosperity.

Scott T. Hamilton became the third president of the Golden LEAF Foundation in November 2019.

Community Colleges Perspective