The technology industry continues to be an important driver in the state’s economy, accounting for 6.4% of the total jobs in the state but about 11% of the state’s total wage earnings and sales, according to the 2022 N.C. State of Technology Industry Report.
And these numbers are expected to grow, with a projected increase of tech occupations by 6.1% from now until 2026.
A skilled labor force is an essential component of infrastructure for a knowledge-based economy, the report stated, and the state has been making improvements by earning the fourth-highest growth rate compared to other states when it comes to STEM education completions from 2015 to 2020.
The state will continue to see an increase in demand for skilled tech workers, and in the Cape Fear region, many schools and organizations are trying to prepare students at an early age with programs to help set up a future tech workforce.
One example of this is The Center of Applied Sciences and Technology known as The COAST, which is linking high school students in Brunswick County with STEM skills and career exploration with an offering of classes focused on STEM and technical skills.
“These classes offer students an opportunity to receive hands-on training in a variety of educational and career fields,” the COAST’s website states.
The school, originally founded as an alternative school for ninth-grade students with educational or behavioral issues, launched a pilot during the 2017-2018 school year and still offers a Ninth Grade Academy to support students who are not academically ready for traditional high school.
High school students can attend The COAST classes while enrolled in their current high school with transportation between schools provided.
Students can take the Career and Technical Education Program focused on growing career fields, primarily in STEM. Courses include aerospace engineering, automotive technology, clean energy technology, culinary arts and hospitality, cybersecurity and network security, technology engineering and design, digital design and game art and electrical trades.
A unique feature of The COAST is classes and programs are always evolving and being added.
The school, located in Bolivia, also connects students with potential higher education organizations and employers through career-readiness events.
From building remote control planes to talking to members of the Brunswick County Sheriff's Office about cybersecurity to participating in mock interviews with local employers, the school’s goal is to keep students engaged in exploring careers in technology.
In addition to nontraditional, career-ready and technical high schools, New Hanover High School offers the STEM Program at Laney High School.
The school’s goal is for its students to be college and career-ready graduates. It focuses on science, mathematics, biomedical technology and engineering “to prepare them for citizenship, higher education, and global competition in the 21st century.”
The school provides engineering courses, including aerospace engineering and architectural and civil engineering.
“I really like the STEM program. I started in my freshman year, and I think it’s great because for people like me and many others that want to go into the medical field, engineering; it’s a good foundation for later and it’s a steppingstone for college,” student Heaven Aduloju said in a video presenting Laney High School STEM.
Another school offering STEM programs include Girls Leadership Academy of Wilmington (GLOW), an all-girls public charter school in Wilmington. Courses at the school include robotics and media production.
Last year, Sony Pictures Entertainment and the Sony Global Social Justice Fund partnered with GLOW to develop a media technology curriculum and studio on GLOW’s campus.
Sony Pictures also provided the school with technology and equipment for its media technology studio.
Older students can take courses part of the software development foundation program by Cape Fear Community College.
The college teamed up with representatives from local technology companies Apiture, Grover Gaming, Live Oak Bank, nCino and opiAID to learn what specific training employers need.
The first level course is 96 hours and has no pre-requisites. The program began in January and is part of the college’s economic and workforce development division providing short-term job training.
Students in the course are learning coding, teamwork skills, the software development life cycle and agile methodologies that aim to prepare them for entry-level software positions.