Through closer collaborations with area employers, Cape Fear Community College is expanding and fine-tuning its apprenticeship programs.
The college recently announced that it is working with more than 100 local businesses to offer students apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship opportunities in 15 fields. Those fields range from HVAC and refrigeration technology to plumbing, truck driving and welding.
“The pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs, which cover a wide variety of industries, are designed to equip students with practical skills and real-world experience, making them highly competitive in their chosen career fields,” a news release stated.
“We’ve had a strong apprenticeship program for years through our Continuing Education program, but our apprenticeships in the past were always geared toward people who were already working in an industry and who would go back and take classes to become licensed,” said Shawn Dixon, provost of CFCC's North Campus.
Dixon said that, while the quality of the skill-building CFCC classes was “world-class,” students were on their own when it came to connecting with employers and landing a job. Now, a large and involved network of area employers is changing CFCC students’ pathways to careers in the skilled trades.
“We need employers working with our instructors,” Dixon said. “Our instructors know their students’ strengths and weaknesses, and our employers are communicating much more than they ever have, so we can get students’ skill sets matched to the skills employers need.”
One important attribute employers want in their new hires, according to Dixon, is soft skills: the ability to communicate, the ability to work as part of a team, and – in customer-facing positions – the ability to work effectively with the public. For these soft skills, the college is adding help with resume writing and interview preparation.
One goal of assembling such a large network of employers, Dixon said, is to build a varied infrastructure of opportunities for students that complements what they can learn in the classroom.
CFCC President Jim Morton has been a strong supporter of broadening the college’s outreach, college spokesperson Christina Hallingse said; he has personally visited area employers to get them on board the apprenticeship expansion, and he suggested extending the apprenticeships to include white-collar as well as blue-collar opportunities.
The result: This year’s list of apprenticeship programs includes entry-level accounting and information technology.
“Our commitment to establishing pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs represents a commitment to preparing our students for successful careers and helping to train qualified employees to enter the local workforce,” Morton said in the release. “We are grateful to our community partners for their support, and we look forward to witnessing the impact these apprenticeships have on our students' lives and on our community."
A second goal of the apprenticeship program is to build flexibility into offerings so that students can start earning as soon as possible. Many at CFCC can't afford to complete their degree or diploma programs all at once.
For those who can't "get their education done up front,” Hallingse said, the apprenticeship programs enable students to master basic skills and then start working for one of the partner employers while they continue to take night classes to complete their license or degree. “These programs are really flexible,” she added.
The employers are key to that.
“Our apprenticeship partners say, ‘If you give [students] to us, we will continue to train them,’” Dixon said. “So students know that they’re not just going to work; they know that they will wind up where they would have, had they gotten all the education first.
“The whole idea is to get students matched to the employer and get them in a flexible situation so they can make a living and finish their education.”