A skilled workforce is critical to a strong economy. North Carolina’s 58 community colleges are providing communities with the tools needed to build their talent, knowledge and skills for strong local economies.
Golden LEAF staff recently joined EducationNC (EdNC) and the John M Belk Endowment on the Awake58 tour of North Carolina’s 58 community colleges with the purpose of personally observing the work that community colleges do in and for the state.
The tour served as an opportunity to showcase the broad influence that the state’s community colleges have in local communities, and how important partnerships, like the ongoing partnership with Golden LEAF, are critical to the state’s rural economy.
“Community colleges are the partner we need to help us live out our mission to transform the economy of rural, tobacco-dependent and economically distressed areas of North Carolina,” said Dan Gerlach, Golden LEAF President. “Simply put, Golden LEAF needs community colleges to thrive and succeed.”
The Golden LEAF Foundation has supported North Carolina’s community colleges for almost 20 years, investing $103 million in grants to support workforce training programs and scholarships at individual community colleges around the state. In addition, the Foundation has granted $8 million in statewide biotechnology training through the North Carolina Community College System.
Golden LEAF invests in building North Carolina’s human infrastructure. The Foundation has supported a range of community college training programs to fulfill this vision such as nursing, truck driving, welding, mechatronics, agribusiness, culinary arts, and advanced manufacturing.
Golden LEAF staff saw many of these grants in action. They were pleased with what they saw.
“Leaders at community colleges care about and are deeply invested in the communities they serve,” said Miranda Dalton, Golden LEAF Program Officer. “Community college leaders are in tune with their community’s strengths and challenges.”
When new needs arise, Golden LEAF is often asked to partner with community colleges by providing equipment or expanding available training space so that the employer can stay and grow in the area.
“The colleges work well with local industry to create the right training programs to prepare their students and local businesses for success,” said Jason Rochelle, Golden LEAF Program Officer.
Community colleges are ideal partners for the Foundation because successful workforce programs for Golden LEAF often include the placing of workers in new jobs or increasing the skills of incumbent workers. In the case of job creation or expansion projects, Golden LEAF asks community colleges to report employment numbers.
“These colleges are small enough to really know their students, care about their long-term success, and often help place them in local jobs,” said Marilyn Chism, Golden LEAF Program Officer.
Because of this close relationship with the colleges, Golden LEAF is better able to track its return on investment. Community colleges have consistently shown that they are both building the numbers of workers getting trained for available jobs and helping workers expand their skill sets.
“We have all heard about the skills-gap and challenges industry faces in finding qualified workers to fill jobs in a highly-automated and rapidly-changing global economy,” said Dr. Mark Sorrells, Golden LEAF Senior Vice President. “Strategic partnerships between education and industry are more critical than ever. The need to act collectively, to more closely align the education-to-work continuum, has increased as our state and national economies creep closer to full employment.”
Community colleges offer a broad range of services to more closely align the education-to-work continuum.
“Community colleges are a particularly strong fit for Golden LEAF’s work in rural economic development,” said Suzanne Keil, Golden LEAF Program Officer. “Not only do they provide access to workforce training programs but also to basic skills, preparation for bachelor’s degrees, vocational programs and needed industry credentials — and in a one-stop-shop.”