A vacant energy plant and warehouse in an underserved community with high unemployment has found new life thanks to collaboration from local leaders. The result — a workforce development center offering training in high-demand trades — has the City of New Bern, Craven Community College, Craven County, and local businesses excited about the future of the Volt Center.
“To get to this point, we did a lot of listening,” said Gery Boucher, Vice President for Students at Craven Community College. “About five years ago, we went out and met with business and industry, community partners, and churches, and decided to start the center with five foundational training courses in skilled trades including plumbing, carpentry, construction, heating and air conditioning, small engine repair and electrical work.”
The Volt Center opened in July 2019. The large, open space provided a flexible and adaptive environment. The high-traffic area is also within walking or bike riding distance for many of the people the center was targeting to serve. Public transportation has been another highlight of the center.
Just a year before the center opened, Hurricane Florence hit Craven County.
“The hurricane highlighted the importance of those five core trades,” said Boucher. “It proved to me that listening to the community was key. Without the community believing in the need for workforce in these areas, the Volt Center would never have happened. The leadership and the vision that was set says a lot about the community. The leadership is listening and reacting to the needs.”
With the parking lot filling up during the afternoons and evenings, word traveled about the center as a place to gain the skills needed to get a good job.
“We are able to take an eclectic group of students that are unemployed, retired, devastated from Hurricane Florence and help them get the training they need to get good, skilled, in-demand jobs,” said Jeff Schulze, Director of Trade Programs at the Volt Center.
So far, the Volt Center has trained nearly 1,000 students. Of those trained, 164 students reported receiving job offers before completing. Not only does the Volt Center attract students looking for jobs, but employers looking for good employees are finding the solutions they have been needing at the training center as well.
“Businesses come knocking on our door,” said Schulze. “They need employees in these high-demand areas. We have had the Homebuilders Association paying for scholarships to get students in the programs. We have partnered with local industry to screen potential employees, which has increased their retention rates.”
The Volt Center has participated in several leader roundtable discussions that have helped take the Volt Center to the next level.
“We have added a manufacturing pathway,” said Schulze. “This course contains soft skills training and exposure to a real manufacturing environment to help manage expectations for where students will be working. We were able to bring in mobile assembly lines to expose the students to equipment used by industry. Many of our students are employed right away after the class.”
Other additional programs that are being added to the Volt Center include forklift training, solar panel training, and a diesel technology program.
Schultze reports that the next set of four classes focus on electrical skills.
“Although the pandemic has reduced our class sizes to nine students per class, every spot is filled,” said Shultze.
“I’m particularly impressed with the synergy and excitement about the Volt Center,” said Boucher. “All facets of the community are involved. Without the investment from Golden LEAF, it would not have been a reality. The impact on the community in general has been tremendous.”
The Volt Center was established following the award of $549,000 in Golden LEAF Community-Based Grant Initiative funds, $1.298 million in Economic Development Administration funds, and $310,000 from the City of New Bern. An additional $50,000 in support came from the Craven 100 Alliance, with $25,000 matching funds from the Harold H. Bate Foundation.