North Carolina is now fully into the election season so we will be hearing a lot about job creation and, separately, improving education from both government officials and candidates.
The reality is, job creation and improving education are not separate. Innovative efforts to improve education go hand-in-hand with economic development.
Economic recruiters will tell you that one of the first things a company examines when looking for a new facility site is the state of the local education system. They have three questions:
1 Is the local workforce, a product of the local education system, ready to go from Day One of our company’s opening here?
2 Is this community trying innovative new things to ensure that students are exposed to more and better educational opportunities?
3 Will the local education system be an impediment to our ability to recruit the best talent from around the country?
The Central Carolina Works and the Caterpillar Youth Apprentice Program in welding are two exciting programs in the Central Carolina Community College service area of Chatham, Harnett and Lee counties. They are already accomplishing these three things.
Gov. Pat McCrory recently visited the Caterpillar Fabrication Facility in Sanford to honor the Youth Apprentice Program’s first graduating class and to learn more about CCW.
Local business and education leaders and elected officials provided the seed capital to start Central Carolina Works this August to highlight an already existing program, the N.C. Career and College Promise program. CCP is a partnership among our state’s K-12 schools, community colleges and universities. It is designed to permit high school students to get college credit from tuition-free community college courses that also count toward a high school diploma.
Studies indicate that programs such as this double the likelihood that a student will seek some sort of post-high school education or training, a key driver to greater economic opportunity.
Put another way, this education program provides future members of the tri-county workforce additional training certificates, diplomas and degrees to help not only themselves but also the tri-county area be more attractive to tomorrow’s job creators.
But only 5 percent of our students are taking advantage of this opportunity. CCW will work to change this by funding a career readiness adviser in each of the tri-county region’s high schools. They will help students and their families learn more about the benefits of CCP and get more students on the path to acquiring the skills required in the 21st century economy.
More graduating students with advanced degrees or advanced industry-specific certificates will be employed at significantly higher incomes.
Partnering with community leaders, Caterpillar provided the resources to strengthen already existing programs in our community to ensure that today’s students and tomorrow’s potential future employees will have increased advantages.
These students benefit with an improved skill-set and potential for higher wages. Caterpillar benefits from more highly skilled starting employees. Our communities benefit as we can brag to economic developers of a more advanced labor force.
We hope that Central Carolina Works will encourage more companies to start apprenticeship programs similar to Caterpillar’s to help all of our students be their best and have the best opportunities in front of them. Whether CCP participants pursue a career and technical path or a four-year degree, it means a better-prepared workforce that will be more attractive to companies considering locating in North Carolina.
Education and economic development are one and the same in today’s modern world.
There are exciting things going on in the tri-county region. With everyone’s help, and participation, our potential has no limit.
Kirk J. Bradley is chairman, president and CEO of Lee Moore Capital Company. Dr. T.E. Marchant, president of Central Carolina Community College, and Dr. Andy Bryan, superintendent of Lee County Schools, also contributed.