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Building a Local Talent Pipeline – Alamance County

Written by: Emily Gangi

The ability to recruit and retain a skilled workforce is vital in today’s economy. Local employers in Alamance County need to build a talent pipeline from within the local labor market. Approximately one-third of residents ages 25-64 attain a postsecondary degree. Employers and the school system recognize the need to expand the talent pipeline for manufacturing specifically. Companies need workers with more specialized skills than what is learned in high school. Human resource managers complain it’s difficult to find enough qualified applicants for vacant positions created by a tight labor market and the surge of retirements from the Baby Boomer segment of the workforce.



The Challenge

The ability to recruit and retain a skilled workforce is vital in today’s economy. Local employers in Alamance County need to build a talent pipeline from within the local labor market. Approximately one-third of residents ages 25-64 attain a postsecondary degree. Employers and the school system recognize the need to expand the talent pipeline for manufacturing specifically. Companies need workers with more specialized skills than what is learned in high school. Human resource managers complain it’s difficult to find enough qualified applicants for vacant positions created by a tight labor market and the surge of retirements from the Baby Boomer segment of the workforce.

The state’s labor force participation rate declined from 68% in 2000 to 62% in 2018, even while its total labor force grew over the last several years in correlation with population growth. According to the NC Department of Commerce Labor & Economic Analysis Division, the aging population accounts for nearly two-thirds of this decline, but disparities persist between demographic groups. Black and Hispanic workers had unemployment rates of 5.5% and 4.7%, respectively, while the unemployment rate for non-Hispanic whites was 2.8%

The term disconnected youth refers to teens and young adults ages 16-24 who are not enrolled in school or participating in the formal workforce. This population represents a large source of potential talent for the workforce. Eleven percent (11%) of residents in Alamance County ages 16-24 are not in school or working. The United Health Foundation’s Measure of America report states, “The limited education, lack of work experience, minimal professional networks and social exclusion of disconnected youth have consequences into adulthood and may affect earnings and self-sufficiency, physical and mental health, and relationship quality and family formation.”

The Solution

The Career Accelerator Program (CAP) is a four-year apprenticeship program that both addresses the immediate need for skilled workers and seeks to grow the next generation of leaders in manufacturing facilities in the Alamance County area. Launched in 2016, the program offers technical career opportunities to motivated high school students and provides them employment after their graduation. Partner companies train these apprentices to fit their highly-skilled, technical job needs, and the students graduate with a guaranteed job and valuable postsecondary credentials. CAP is largely patterned after the award-winning Apprenticeship 2000 program in the Charlotte region and the North Carolina Training Apprenticeship Program in the Research Triangle region.

The estimated scholarship value of a CAP apprenticeship is $140,000. The program is an intensive, four-year, in-depth combination of on-the-job training at the partner company’s facility and classroom learning at Alamance Community College. CAP works closely with the Career Development Coordinators (CDCs) at participating local high schools. These CDCs and other core subject teachers make referrals to the program. In addition, each fall, CAP representatives hold informational sessions for all faculty and staff, as well as interested students and their parents or guardians. After learning about the CAP apprenticeship requirements and timeline (either at a session or by talking to a CDC), students and their families are required to take a facility tour at a minimum of one CAP company. Thereafter, the student applies to be a CAP apprentice.

Graduates of the program begin with a salary of $35,000, which is higher than the median earnings for Alamance County residents ages 25 and over with some college or an associate degree. During their first year as apprentices, seniors in high school attend school for two classes in either the morning or afternoon and then train at the partner companies for the remainder of the day. Once apprentices have graduated from high school, they work Monday through Thursday at the companies and attend classes on Friday at Alamance Community College (ACC). Apprentices receive training at ACC in the following areas: electrical, mechanical, computer technologies, physics, mathematics, automation, and robotics. At the end of the four years, an apprentice will have an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Mechatronics Engineering Technology, a Journeyman Certificate from the N.C. Department of Commerce, and four years (6,400 hours) of on-the-job training. An apprentice is paid for hours worked at the company both during the high school year and after graduation. After graduation, the apprentice is paid for time spent in classes at ACC. Employers also pay for books, fees, and tuition.

The Players

Alamance County Area Chamber of Commerce coordinates the program. Alamance Community College offers an associate in applied science degree in mechatronics engineering technology, as well as additional training opportunities for stackable certificates and elective classes. Alamance-Burlington School System provides career development coordinators, who work with the students enrolled in high school. Ten partner companies host onsite apprenticeship training and mentors employed by the companies support and train apprentices onsite.

The Promise

This program allows students to obtain a degree and valuable, relevant job experience at relatively no cost to them or their families. Even after the apprenticeship ends, students can take advantage of the tuition reimbursement program offered by every participating employer. There are limits to how much a program that is as human resource-intensive as CAP can scale in Alamance County, but the value extends beyond the number of apprentices. CAP spawned new priorities for alignment and exploration of additional ways to build a talent pipeline for manufacturing in the region.

Applications for the program increase each year, with 400 students attending information sessions in the third year of the program’s existence. The current apprentices deserve much of the credit for the awareness and excitement about the program. They are happy to attend informational sessions and talk to students during facility tours. They also serve as ambassadors in less formal ways and places. One apprentice explained that he just can’t stop talking about the program.

An increasing number of companies also seek to join the program. CAP started with seven companies. They now have ten, with others lined up to join. Companies recognize that, in addition to the apprentices, there is value in the exposure that comes from participating in CAP — especially in a tight labor market. Families hear about participating companies at informational sessions and have a chance to tour individual companies with students. Often, family members themselves end up applying for positions.

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