K-64 program connects Catawba County students to local careers

K-64 is a collaborative workforce program bringing together education, business, government, and community leaders to connect students and employers to shape future careers, meet workforce demands, and help sustain the economic development of Catawba County. The name, K-64, is a reference to preparing students from kindergarten (K) through retirement (64).

Employers in Catawba County have identified a need to to fill nearly 5,000 jobs across a variety of industries. K-64 is a new approach to talent development designed to fill the workforce gap and develop a talent pipeline. The program actively engages students of all ages in preparing for viable and sustainable careers throughout their lifetime through work-based learning, utilization of technology, career exploration, specific skills training, and character education.

In April 2019, Golden LEAF awarded $135,000 to Catawba Valley Community College to support salaries for new business liaisons. The liaisons engage local businesses in identifying pathways for students that align with local workforce needs.

“Connecting students to viable career opportunities in our community will ensure that we can meet the workforce needs of our region for the future,” said Dr. Garrett Hinshaw, CVCC President and K-64 Interim CEO. “The support of our innovative K-64 program by the Golden LEAF Foundation has helped us to increase the program’s impact across all of our local schools.”

As a result of funding provided by Golden LEAF, K-64 has worked with 50 businesses to provide students with internships. K-64 also reports 93 students have participated in work-based learning and nine students have been placed in high-demand local jobs.

Jacob Toney, a K-64 program participant, leveraged an apprenticeship to help kickstart his career. Mechanical drafting was his favorite class his junior year. Sarstedt, a local medical equipment manufacturer, sent a guest speaker to explain apprenticeships to the class. The paying job opportunity included a training certificate and tuition-free classes toward an associate degree in Mechatronics Engineering at CVCC.

Toney knew this was the right path for him to follow for a good-paying career. The first step was participating in a six-week paid summer internship.

“The internship consisted of school twice a week, and the rest was made up of shadowing skilled workers at the company,” said Toney. “This was the test-drive part of the apprenticeship to see if someone would like to do a job like this.”

After completing the internship, some participants were chosen for the apprenticeship. Although Toney was not chosen, he used the opportunity to access additional training

“This only fueled my determination for the next summer opportunity,” said Toney. “So, to better prepare myself, I spent half days during my senior year of high school taking classes at Catawba Valley Community College in a special mechatronics program.”

The next year, he applied and was accepted into the apprenticeship program. While working as an apprentice, he finished his degree in mechatronics at CVCC. He then applied and was accepted to Western Carolina University in the Mechanical Engineering program. When he graduates, he will already have years of experience in the field. Toney is proud to be a product of the K-64 program.

K-64 Business Liaison Jennifer Jones highlighted the collaboration necessary to make the project a success. Stakeholders include the Catawba County Schools, Hickory Public Schools, Newton-Conover City Schools, Catawba Valley Community College, Lenoir-Rhyne University, the Catawba County Economic Development Corporation, the Catawba County Chamber of Commerce, and local government and business leaders.

“We have engaged more than 300 local businesses in education,” said Jones, “through participation in career fairs and robotics competitions in local K-12 schools, as mentors for local middle and high school students, in developing courses and training at the community college, in providing work-based learning opportunities for local students, and in serving in an advisory capacity for our work.”

Jones called the program a game changer for the county.

“This collaborative and systemic approach to shaping future careers and meeting workforce demands will broaden local industry awareness to the citizens of Catawba County and outside talent while connecting them to high-wage, highly-skilled career pathways,” said Jones.

The County credits K-64 with generating $119 million in new investment and creating 398 new jobs. In the last two years, three companies have opened facilities in the Trivium Corporate Center in Catawba County. Corning expanded their existing footprint at Trivium by adding new jobs in addition to ITM and Cataler establishing new operations resulting in new jobs.

“There are a multitude of factors considered by a client as they determine the best location for their company,” said Julie Pruett, Director of Business Recruitment at the Catawba County EDC. “In most instances, the two most important factors are buildings or sites and workforce. K-64 is a key component in our argument to a client that we will be able to satisfy their workforce needs. We consider K-64 to be a key partner in our collective economic development efforts.”

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