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Sampson Community College is prioritizing what students and local businesses need

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Over the years, Sampson Community College has learned the value of partnering with local businesses. From Hog Slat and Schindler Elevator Corporation to Ezzell Trucking, Inc., small and large businesses alike in Sampson County have relied on the support of the college for decades. 

Sampson Community College (SCC) has an annual economic impact of $80.5 million, according to a recent economic impact study. The study found that one out of every 17 jobs in Sampson County is supported by the activities of SCC and its students. 

A reciprocal relationship

Ezzell Trucking has been a family-owned and operated business for three generations. Over the years, Ezzell Trucking has approached SCC with requests to create programs to help its employees succeed, while also providing support to the college.

Grover Ezzell, CEO of Ezzell Trucking, said one particular need for the company is truck drivers. He said SCC helps fill that need. 

“The curriculum that we do here at the college has really helped us pick the better drivers,” Ezzell said. “It’s just wonderful to have that because it’s enabled us to recruit.” 

Ezzell’s partnership with the college extends even further. When SCC began its search for a location to host its truck driver training program, Ezzell joined the college’s team in its search for the best location. Ezzell Trucking also donated trucks to the program.

Chuck Spell is the director of manufacturing at Hog Slat. He’s worked in manufacturing in the county for over 30 years. Throughout that time, the community college has been an “instrumental part” in making sure the workforce was trained in what businesses need, he said.

Embedding in businesses

Responding to local business needs often means that the college is embedding in businesses to help employees receive the training they need. Bart Rice is the college’s director of business & industry. He said for some businesses in the county, it’s easier for instructors from the college to come into the business and teach employees there. 

“If they have the personnel and the time to let us come in and train, it’s a really effective tool for them,” Rice said. 

According to 2020 census data, 21.3% of the county’s population is Hispanic or Latinx. As this population grows in the county, the college is partnering with local businesses to provide English as a Second Language (ESL) courses in-house. One tool the college is implementing for these courses is the addition of “hot words” – keywords and phrases used in the work environment that will help ensure employees’ safety. The words and phrases are specific to each industry and are customizable. 

Amanda Bradshaw, the dean of workforce development & continuing education at Sampson Community College, said being able to go into these local businesses and teach courses on-site makes the college more accessible to the business and its employees. 

“I think industries are looking at this more from a holistic approach now of how to support their employees,” Bradshaw said. “And they’re understanding that yes, even though we do offer ESL classes during the day, or even though we do offer them in the evening here on campus, that might not fit some of those folks’ schedules.” 

Bradshaw said there is one major key to making local partnerships work.

“Communication, communication, communication,” Bradshaw said. 

Preparing students for careers

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are about 47,600 openings for welders and similar positions in the United States each year. At SCC, the welding faculty are focused on teaching students industry-relevant skills to help fill these openings. One instructor, Sammy Evans, is also focusing on helping students find good jobs. 

For welders, there are careers that require regular travel, but also options that keep them closer to home. Evans wants to help students find the type of welding job they want. 

“You can see a smile on their face, and you know you’ve impacted their life,” Evans said. 

Evans provides guidance to a first-year welding student. Cheyenne McNeill/EducationNC

While each job pays differently, Evans knows there is potential for graduates of his program to start their careers making excellent money. Lessons in the welding shop often also include life lessons, things like deciding what career path is best, what sort of truck to purchase, and deciding when to work on the road versus when to work near home. This also includes discussing the realities of the job. 

The American Welding Society predicts that by 2023, there will be a shortage of 375,000 welders across the country. Evans knows this and wants his students to know they have options. 

Existing to support the community

Sampson Community College President Dr. Bill Starling said partnering with local businesses is special for the college because they know these folks personally. 

“Ours are really special to us because we know them. We know the people that work with them,” Starling said. “We’re proud of our support for our local industries.” 

Starling said this relationship is reciprocal. And as he sees it, the college “exists to support” the local community and especially its local businesses and manufacturers. 

From agriculture to manufacturing and beyond, Sampson Community College knows the impact it can have on its community by valuing these partnerships.

“We make a difference, but they really make a difference,” Steve Stefanovich, SCC Foundation Board member, said.

Cheyenne McNeill

Cheyenne McNeill is a communications strategist for EdNC.