When times are tough, it’s not always the worker that matters. It’s the employer.
“Employers are the ones that create the jobs or move out of the area because they think they can’t find the labor,” said Steve Partridge, president and CEO of Charlotte Works, a service that matches employers with the skilled workers they need. “When you’re limited in money, you need to train people in high demand areas.”
Community colleges often do just that.
When three North Carolina residents faced unemployment or underemployment, they turned to community college to gain skills and knowledge in industries and fields that were growing.
Wake Technical Community College
Vickie Randleman spent 19 years at a reservation center for the Sheraton Hotel before her office closed. Afterwards, she went from job to job, seeking stability in the industry she loved – hospitality.
But it wasn’t until Randleman attended the START (Skills, Tasks and Results Training) program at Wake Tech that she was able to land a job at The Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary.
“It was good to have a scholastic environment where I could ask the questions that got me suited back into the hospitality industry,” she said.
In addition to traditional classroom teaching, the program provides students with the opportunity to make contacts at local hotels like The Umstead.
“(For an employer,) there’s nothing like having someone that is trained in your area because that means you don’t have to start over,” Randleman said. “The program gave me a background and a platform to stand on. So when I came to The Umstead, I wasn’t like ‘Okay, tell me about it.’ I knew.”
And despite previous layoffs, Randleman said she feels secure in her job. According to the June 2012 monthly lodging report for the North Carolina Department of Commerce, the Triangle showed increases in occupancy rates and room demand in the past year.
“I think this industry will thrive, especially with the revitalization of downtown and the different areas of Raleigh,” Randleman said.
Durham Technical Community College
Terri Page, who recently received an associate degree in nursing from Durham Tech, worked for Verizon Wireless for 25 years before her department was wiped out.
In order to get retirement benefits and health insurance, Page got another position in the company. “I went from a six figure salary to more like an entry level job,” she said.
But it wasn’t just the drop in pay that motivated Page to rethink her career.
“There was so much corporate downsizing, I didn’t want to get another sales type job. I just wanted out,” she said. “I wanted to go back to school for security.”
According to the North Carolina Commission on Workforce Development’s June 2011 State of the North Carolina Workforce report, nursing is one of the fastest growing industries in the state.
Now Page is going back to school to get a bachelor degree in nursing while she works in her new field.
Piedmont Community College
Gordon Foote, who graduated in the first class of Piedmont Community College’s Certified Production Technician (CPT) program, was an electrician at a nuclear power plant before he got laid off.
“I went back to school because I wanted to remain working in this area, and the electrical field in this area was sort of dried up,” Foote said.
“Being unemployed doesn’t bring joy to your heart by any means.”
But Foote said the CPT program added structure back into his life and made him more optimistic about his future.
After graduation, Foote was almost immediately employed by SpunTech Industries, a manufacturer and supplier of fabric products.
“It’s pretty cool,” Foote said of SpunTech. “It has given me an opportunity, and I’m going to make the most of it.”
These stories exemplify the importance of looking to the employer first.
Pat Sturdivant, executive director of the Capital Area Workforce Development Board, believes training workers in thriving industries is the safest investment in times of economic uncertainty.
“You’re looking for a return on investment. You don’t want to train someone for eight months or two years and then them not get a job,” Sturdivant said.
“So we want to focus the majority of our training dollars on industries that are going to be doing the most hiring or have the most open positions over the next three or four years.”