Asheville, N.C.

Meeting on the campus of Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College on Aug. 8, the NCWorks Commission approved new Career Pathways, discussed the connections between education and employer needs, and certified local Career Centers.

The Commission endorsed four new regional plans to help North Carolinians prepare and train for work. Known as NCWorks Certified Career Pathways, the education and training plans help job seekers enter particular high-demand fields. These pathways are designed by employers in collaboration with the state’s workforce development and education professionals. Career Pathways outline and define the following:

  • Necessary courses at the high school and college level;
  • Required credentials;
  • Experience required and the employers in a given area who provide work-based learning activities related to that field; and
  • Various certificates and degrees in the related field.

Career Pathways are designed not only for younger students, but also for adults and individuals who have lost jobs or been out of the workforce through no fault of their own. Individuals can access a Career Pathway through public schools, community colleges, and public and private universities. The Commission certified the following pathways (with corresponding workforce development boards) at its August meeting:

  • Business Support Services (Northeastern, Region Q and Turning Point) – approved for Beaufort, Bertie, Camden, Chowan, Currituck, Dare, Edgecombe, Gates, Halifax, Hertford, Hyde, Martin, Nash, Northampton, Pasquotank, Perquimans, Pitt, Tyrell, Washington and Wilson counties. This is the third Career Pathway involving this alliance of three workforce development boards in Northeastern North Carolina, after Advanced Manufacturing and Health Care.
  • Construction and Skills Trades (Capital Area, Durham and Kerr-Tar) – approved for Durham, Franklin, Granville, Johnston, Person, Vance, Wake and Warren counties. This is the first Career Pathway for this alliance of three Triangle-area workforce development boards, although they have other pathways individually and in combinations of two boards.
  • Advanced Manufacturing (Triangle South) – approved for Chatham, Harnett, Lee and Sampson counties; and
  • Health Care (Triangle South) – approved for Chatham, Harnett, Lee and Sampson counties. These are the Triangle South area’s first two certified Career Pathways.

Also during the meeting, North Carolina Commerce Secretary Anthony Copeland briefed his fellow Commission members on the new Finish Line Grants program, which was announced by Governor Roy Cooper in July. “As a state, we are almost at full employment, and that means training North Carolinians for jobs that are in demand is more important than ever,” Copeland said. “Finish Line Grants help keep community college students in school and on their way to completing their training. We don’t want an unforeseen hospital bill, expensive car repair, or childcare falling through to put a student’s education and career on hold.” 

Partnerships of North Carolina community colleges and workforce development boards are applying to the N.C. Division of Workforce Solutions to participate in the Finish Line Grants program for the 2018-2019 school year. The program will leverage up to $7 million in federal funds to help students pay for course materials, housing, medical needs, dependent care, or other financial emergencies that students may face through no fault of their own. 

“Dropping out due to unexpected expenses doesn’t just hurt students,” Copeland said in prepared remarks. “It affects employers who need skilled workers to do the jobs they create. Businesses need students to graduate so they can fill the open positions we have in nearly every industry. One of the most important steps in fulfilling Governor Cooper’s mission and getting North Carolina job ready is helping hardworking North Carolinians pursue careers that let them provide for themselves and their families.”

Later in the meeting, the Commission officially certified all four NCWorks Career Centers in the Mountain Area Workforce Development Board area (serving Buncombe, Henderson, Madison and Transylvania counties) and all five NCWorks Career Centers in the Southwestern Workforce Development Board area (serving Clay, Graham, Haywood, Macon, Jackson, Swain and Cherokee counties). These centers are among the first to be certified under newly revised criteria that the Commission approved in 2017. 

The NCWorks Commission establishes customer service standards for all NCWorks Career Centers to ensure high-quality and consistent service delivery across the state. These “one-stop” centers assist job seekers with improving their skills and finding jobs and help businesses develop a qualified workforce. Certification indicates that the centers deliver services in an integrated, coordinated way, have well-trained professional staff and are accessible to all customers.

In other business, NCWorks Commission Executive Director Catherine Moga Bryant called upon members to provide updates on Work-Based Learning initiatives in their organizations, such as career awareness activities, internships and apprenticeships. She also highlighted local workforce innovations from across the state, including “Backpacks to Briefcases,” a program that started in Wake County and which connects recent college graduates to jobs in their field of study; “Work in Burke,” a career awareness campaign that fights to change the perception of job opportunities in a rural area; “K-64,” a public-private partnership created by the Catawba County Commissioners and managed by Catawba Valley Community College (CVCC) to connect students of all ages with the working world; and the Catawba Valley Furniture Academy, at which CVCC partners with manufacturers to provide low-cost training for high-demand careers in the furniture industry.

Consultant Francie Genz made a presentation to the Commission on sector partnerships, which bring together a region’s business leaders within one industry sector or cluster, supported by a team of public partners in workforce development, economic development and education. “North Carolina is ahead of the curve on sector partnerships,” Genz said. She cited a new Cumberland County health care sector partnership as an example. “Sector partnerships coordinate multiple points of outreach and engagement with employers to address workforce challenges and other competitiveness needs,” Genz explained. She added that a statewide sector strategy working group is being formed to develop a plan to support regional partnerships.

Led by a private sector chair, the 33-member NCWorks Commission includes representatives from the business community, heads of state workforce agencies, educators and community leaders. The Commission, which is designated as the state’s Workforce Development Board under the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, recommends policies and strategies to enable the state’s workforce and businesses to compete in the global economy. The group meets quarterly and is next scheduled to meet in Jacksonville on Nov. 14.


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