Jobs at center stage as Wake Tech celebrates 50th anniversary

10/18/2013 12:25 PM

10/18/2013 12:25 PM

Gov. Pat McCrory celebrated Wake Technical Community College – marking its 50th birthday Wednesday – as one of the reasons companies come to this part of the state or expand operations here.

When executives ask him if the region has workers who can staff their hospitals, their high-tech manufacturing plants or their energy exploration efforts, he said, he tells them, “Yes. We’ve got Wake Tech.”

McCrory was at the state’s largest community college as it wrapped up a year of commemorating its opening in 1963. Back then, it was the W.W. Holding Industrial Education Center, with a single building off U.S. 401 South that offered a handful of technical training programs. Four graduates of the inaugural class attended the event, including one from the nursing program, one from automobile mechanics and Bryan Thornton, who studied electrical installation.

Thornton, now 72, put himself through the yearlong program by working as an attendant at Dorothea Dix Hospital at night and taking classes during the day. He got a job repairing two-way radios as soon as he graduated.

Over the decades, Thornton said, he took additional classes wherever they were offered to keep up with technology. By the time he retired, he was helping design cellphones for a company in Research Triangle Park.

Wake Tech students want to stay current, too, and to make sure they do, the school has expanded its offerings over the decades, along with its student population. Wake Tech President Stephen Scott, who marked 10 years as head of the school this week, told a gathering of students, staff, faculty and guests on Wednesday that from the 70 students it started with, Wake Tech has grown to 70,000 students who will take at least one class this year.

Sharon Decker, secretary of the state Department of Commerce, told the crowd what the McCrory administration has been saying for months: Education and jobs are inextricably linked.

“You can’t have one without the other,” Decker said.

She cited fields where she foresees job growth in the state: technology, including data management and analytics; high-tech manufacturing, including a resurgence of textiles; and a blending of agriculture and biotech. She urged students to study some science and math and polish their writing, because they'll need all three skills to succeed.

Above all, Decker told the group, which included students who will be graduating into a still-difficult job market, “You need to study something that you can get up every day and be excited about.”

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