Short-term Training Boosts Workforce

By Johanna F. Still, posted Mar 3, 2023
Cape Fear Community College’s 10-week electrical lineworker course is among a slew of short-term programming developed by the college in recent years as a result of corporate partnerships. (Photo C/O CFCC)
In just five years, Cape Fear Community College has transformed and expanded its short-term workforce development programming designed to get quickly students into the local workforce. 

“It was totally different,” said John Downing, the college’s vice president of economic and workforce development. “We didn’t have a lot of short-term development training that got people into lucrative jobs. That’s all changed.” 

Now, Downing said the college has more than 25 short-term work-force development programs. These programs derive from CFCC’s corporate partnerships – born by frequent and collaborative advisory sessions with employers from various industries. Some advisory committees meet quarterly, Downing said, while others convene monthly. 

“The corporate partnerships, it’s not a new concept, but we’re paying a lot more attention to it in the last five years than what we had been before,” he said. 

In a Jan. 31 community letter, college president Jim Morton credited efforts to meet employer needs with CFCC’s ability to maintain a positive enrollment trend. While enrollment across the N.C. Community College System was down 14% between 2018 and 2022, enrollment at CFCC was up 1.4%. 

“We are one of the very few in North Carolina – and really across the nation – that are seeing an increase in enrollment,” said college spokesperson Christina Hallingse. 

Downing said the shift in programming focus was “because of the huge demand we needed to upscale our pipeline we’re providing.” 

To launch a new degree program, CFCC can respond to market needs within about nine months to a year, “if all the stars line up,” Downing said. Short-term workforce development programs can be forged in as little as 60 days, so long as stakeholders can secure a qualified instructor. These programs can range from 96 to 400 hours of instruction, Downing said. 

“The more you do, the more you find there is to do,” he said of the growth of the programs. 

One of the more fruitful short-term workforce development courses CFCC has started in recent years is its 10-week electrical lineworker course, which began in 2018. In December, the college graduated its largest class yet, at 52 students, bringing the total number of graduates to nearly 650. 

“The day that they graduate, they receive their certificate, then they go into a room that’s essentially a job fair with all of the employers,” Hallingse said. “Usually all of them walk out with a job offer.” 

“At least one [job offer],” Downing added. “Some of them get three or four.”

With about 14 employers engaged in the lineworker program, Downing said conservatively, the hire rate is 98%. “Some people have signed with companies ahead of time, and they’re handed their uniforms and their hat on the spot,” he said of graduation day. 

Duke Energy hires about 130 line-workers in North Carolina annually, according to spokesperson Logan Kureczka. The corporation employs 1,000 statewide. “Our hiring strategy focuses on hiring local talent to fill our skilled trade positions,” Kureczka said. “CFCC plays an essential part in our recruitment – we primarily recruit through community colleges that have lineworker programs.” 

Large-scale projects related to clean energy and the future of the grid are driving an industry need for skilled lineworkers, according to Kureczka. “Graduates of lineworker training programs at local community colleges like CFCC are ideal candidates for roles at Duke Energy – and possess a desirable skill set and knowledge to set them up for success in their new career,” she said.  

Last summer, CFCC launched courses to respond to needs in the manufacturing community requested by the Cape Fear Manufacturing Partnership, a trade group representing about 40 employers. Those new courses include manufacturing production technician, machining applications and distribution warehousing programs. 

The college also started a software development foundations course last year, prompted by requests from nCino, Live Oak Bank, Apiture, Grover Gaming and opiAID. “Within 90 days we had a working class,” Downing said. 

In January, CFCC welcomed its first cohort of students for another sought-after, industry-requested program, a culinary foundations course aimed at producing skilled line cooks. 

CFCC also recently expanded its fiber optic technical programming last fall, Downing said, based on input from Corning Optical Communications. 

Corning launched a training pro-gram at its optical division headquarters in Charlotte in August to address a growing statewide and national need to expand broadband networks and shrink the digital divide. The company later expanded the training locally through CFCC, which entails a one-week class led by the company that fits within the college’s 10-week course. “It’s one of the first locations outside Charlotte where we have offered this fiber optic training,” said Bob Whitman, Corning’s vice president of global market development of carrier networks. 

The company’s customers are eager to hire fiber technicians, according to Whitman. “We’re doing this to fill an industry need, building on our decades of experience with fiber optic training,” he said. “Broadband networks depend on optical fiber – like the fiber made by Corning’s highly skilled workforce in Wilmington.”

In CFCC’s pipeline for this fall are new planned surveying and gaming programs currently awaiting state approval, driven by corporate requests, Downing said. 

Novant Health consistently hires graduates from more than 20 CFCC programs, according to a hospital spokesperson. This includes the college’s more recently developed medical laboratory technician and medical office administration programs.

"We strongly value our work with local higher education programs, including CFCC, as a strong source of recruitment for nurses and a variety of clinical roles. These students are already local and aware of the quality of life in this beautiful region, and many of them have completed training or clinical rotations within our facilities, so they are already familiar with us,” said Amy Akers, Novant Health New Hanover Regional Medical Center’s chief nurse executive. “In addition to supporting training experiences, we also target recruitment directly to graduating classes to be sure they are aware of the opportunities within Novant Health.”

In CFCC’s pipeline for this fall are new planned surveying and gaming programs currently awaiting state approval, driven by corporate requests, Downing said. 

“If you’re running a training pro-gram and your local businesses don’t hire your people, then you’re doing something wrong,” he said. “These are economic development programs. At the same time, they’re workforce development programs.”
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