Johnston County is trying to close a “skills gap” among workers at local industries.
Peggy Anderson, the county’s director of economic development, says industries in Johnston have complained to her about the lack of a “trainable workforce.” Essentially, they’re saying many workers here don’t have the basic skills needed to work for their companies.
“Basically, what they are saying is the employees are not able to learn the job,” Anderson said. “They may not have the computer skills to run the equipment.”
Joy Callahan, who oversees Johnston Community College’s technical-training programs, said many jobs here require specialized training.
One of the biggest needs industries have is for workers to maintain manufacturing equipment, Callahan said. The workforce in that field is rapidly aging, she said, and industries need to replace them.
But it’s hard to find qualified replacements, Callahan said. “Most of the companies have been hiring military folks because they have that maintenance background,” she said.
Anderson said the problem is widespread. Last week, she joined other local officials and industry representatives at the Emerging Issues forum at N.C. State University. Forum leaders urged industries to re-brand manufacturing as a career choice for young people and collaborate with community colleges on training programs.
Anderson said that’s the first step industries need to take to close the skills gap – link themselves to technical training programs at JCC. “If they have issues, it’s best to address them with the community college,” she said. “We have been trying to make these companies aware of the programs we have that they can tap into.”
JCC offers a training program called DALT, short for Developing a Lifelong Trade, which is designed to prepare students for jobs in assembly, light manufacturing and logistics.
Callahan said the program can help close the skills gap. “Once they leave here, they can walk into any industry and conform to what their needs are,” she said.
But Anderson said it has been hard to get industry leaders and officials from JCC and the public schools in the same room. Her office scheduled meetings last August and December, but the turnout was poor.
“We haven’t gotten the response we’re looking for,” Anderson said. “I guess for some people it’s difficult to get away from their facilities for two hours in the middle of the day.”
A third meeting is scheduled for March.
Matt Koczanski, a training consultant at Caterpillar’s Clayton plant, said he doesn’t agree with the notion that Johnston County has a shortage of “trainable” workers, though he does see a shortage of trained workers. Caterpillar has been working closely with JCC, and Koczanski said the company has benefited from the relationship.
“Partnering with the (JCC’s) Workforce Development Center is how we’ve addressed the problem, and we’ve gotten through it,” he said.
Caterpillar already has an apprenticeship program at its Sanford plant, and Koczanski said he’s trying to bring it to Johnston County.
JCC, meanwhile, is trying to help industries reach kids in high school and college. Juniors and seniors in Johnston County high schols can take technical-education classes for college credit. Also, industries often go to high schools and middle schools for their career days.
In the future, Callahan wants to work with companies on internship and apprenticeship programs.
Although job opportunities in industry are there, Callahan said they can be a hard sell. Most kids are taught to aim for a four-year university degree; they don’t know what’s available in the manufacturing sector. But Callahan says young people can begin in a technical field and then move up in the company or further their education.
“When they graduate a year early with an associate’s degree, (they) get out there and start making the big bucks,” she said.