Brunswick Community College and the Cape Fear Workforce Development Board were recently awarded a $400,000 grant to help fund a program that aims to build a talent pipeline into the area’s construction industry.
The grant award stems from the NCWorks Local Innovation Fund, which Gov. Roy Cooper established last year as part of the NC Job Ready initiative, according to a news release. The governor announced the winners Tuesday, naming the Brunswick County initiative one of three recipients of a two-year implementation grant.
The initiative, Pathways to Purpose, will support innovative recruitment, accelerated construction training, credential attainment and soft skills instruction, according to the release.
“The traditional semester model does not apply to this initiative. It is our goal to have students enter Pathways to Purpose, receive their training, get their credentials, find their employment match and get to work,” Greg Bland, interim vice president for BCC's Economic & Workforce Development, said of the initiative Friday.
The project overhauls the traditional approach to delivering instruction and managing retention in an effort to keep pace with the private sector demand in the region’s thriving construction industry, stated the release.
“It’s an awesome opportunity for the college to partner with the private sector and with community organizations to provide the talent pipeline that is so desperately needed,” Bland said, adding that the area is still recovering and rebuilding from the devastation left behind by Hurricane Florence.
BCC and the Cape Fear Workforce Development Board are the lead entities on the job-ready education project. Other partners include the Brunswick County Home Builders Association, Brunswick Transit System, Countywide Community Development Corp., Brunswick County Sheriff's Office/Brunswick County Detention Center, Brunswick County Career Center, fire departments and local nonprofit agencies, according to the news release.
The program is still in the infant stages of development since funding for the initiative through the state has only just been awarded, Bland said.
“We don’t have the funding yet, other than the announcement,” Bland said Friday. “We were funded $200,000 for the first year."
That money is slated to be used to fund equipment, supplies, registration fees, books, credential exams, transportation money and other student needs.
The motivation behind Pathways to Purpose is to keep up with the current economic demands of the area’s construction industry, which has struggled over the past several years to find skilled workers to keep up with the pace, Bland said in an email.
There is no timing of when the program would get started, but funding could be distributed by the state in April, he said.
The funds would go to the Cape Fear Workforce Development Board, which would reimburse BCC for costs associated with running the program, Bland said.
For the actual program, the college aims to host “back-to-back, short-term classes throughout the 24-month period,” Bland said.
Students have to be at least 18 years or older to participate.
“We are primarily serving the unemployed or underemployed,” Bland added.
The program aims to serve 60 students per year, with options to train in construction-based skill sets that range from plumbing to electrical, to carpentry and roofing, he said.
“Colleges run [traditional] construction classes … but with this, we are going out in the community to recruit people,” Bland said. “We want to go out and find the students. And they will be assigned a career navigator that will help them secure an internship or a work-based learning experience.”
The program will also help students with soft skills and provide funds to perform exams, attire for interviews and other necessities to facilitate their entry into the workforce, he said.
“These are some of the wrap-around services that are built around this initiative that normally might not be in place,” Bland said.
Using U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, state officials recently reported that 2,100 people are employed in the county’s construction workforce, Bland said of the numbers. With a total of 48,700 adults employed in Brunswick County, the skilled trades professionals represent less than 5 percent of the total workforce population, according to the release.
“This tightening labor market is a snapshot of the crisis occurring throughout our Southeast prosperity zone, state and nation. During the first quarter of 2018, national statics indicate that employers have been attempting to fill an average of 225,000 construction vacancies each month. The resulting talent gap is nothing short of stifling for the private sector,” Bland wrote in the email.
Bland also said, "Shifting the training and workforce pipeline toward construction provides immediate benefits for the private sector, small business and the local tax base.
"At the same time, there are also tangible benefits for individuals and families. Family sustaining wages, portable credentials and year-round employment will be the end result of this great collaboration.”