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Workforce training and economic development have always been integral to the mission of community colleges nationwide. Because of their unique position in the education system and in the communities they serve, community colleges are expected to respond quickly to changes in the economic environment and provide the educational opportunities that business and industry need for their employees.
However, with the recent major changes in the economy due to the pandemic and technology developments, how can community colleges be agile enough to react rapidly and proactively to these shifts? The ability to serve a vital role in training the workforce for new jobs created in emerging industries depends on the opportunities that community colleges have to collaborate with business and industry and other organizations.
According to a December 2022 report published by the Harvard Business School in partnership with the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), a disconnect exists between the skills businesses need their employees to have and the skills taught by community colleges. This gap needs to be closed in order to keep the nation’s businesses competitive in the future. The report also provides recommended actions for both businesses and community colleges to increase their collaboration.
The electric vehicle (EV) industry provides some examples of how community colleges can collaborate with businesses and other partners to respond rapidly to changing employer needs. Community colleges nationwide are using these connections to provide workforce training and establish apprenticeship programs, which work to attract new manufacturers.
Community College Training Programs
Current and future EV-technology jobs require workers with new and updated skills, and businesses are relying on community colleges to help provide them with a qualified workforce, thus providing opportunities for both job seekers and instructors. Community colleges have already started to respond to these new demands.
In June 2022, Ford announced that it was expanding its training program to include more instruction on electric vehicles. According to the press release, “The initiative, known as Automotive Student Service Educational Training (ASSET), is a collaboration between Ford Motor Company, Ford and Lincoln dealers, and select community colleges and technical schools.” The ASSET program has already been established at community colleges in Arizona, Georgia, and North Carolina.
Nearly $1 million in federal community project funds is allowing Wake Technical Community College in North Carolina to add new EV instruction to several of its degree programs, including Automotive Systems Technology, Collision Repair and Refinishing Technology, Diesel and Heavy Equipment Technology, and Electrical Systems Technology. In addition to training automotive students to maintain and repair electrical vehicles, colleges are also providing instruction in installing and repairing electrical charging stations to students in their electrical programs.
Many community colleges are also responding to the changing requirements in local workforce needs through short-term customized training programs. Some colleges, such as Wake Tech, are now developing short-term non-degree EV training for public safety personnel and technicians at dealerships and municipalities.
Apprenticeships can also serve as a bridge between workforce training and employment, and these programs have been making a comeback over the last decade.
According to the North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS), the number of apprenticeships through the state-wide ApprenticeshipNC program has doubled since the program was created in 2017. They also report that participating employers receive a 170% return on investment with the apprenticeships. Students in these programs typically spend one to three years at the business in on-the-job training, earning a living wage, and boosting their resume.
AACC recently announced the creation of an Electrical Vehicle Hub in partnership with Tesla and Panasonic. This national initiative is funded by an $8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor partially in response to President Biden’s goal of 50% EV by 2030. The program will take advantage of the numerous opportunities provided by the growth in electric vehicle technology and manufacturing to train new workers and retrain those already working in the industry.
In April 2022, Siemens published a press release summarizing the growth in North Carolina’s electric vehicle industry and the roles played by the involved partners, including the local community colleges. The article describes the apprenticeship program offered by Wake Tech Community College: “Starting in the 11th grade, program participants attend classes part-time and receive hands-on manufacturing experience, all while earning full-time compensation benefits. In the end, apprentices obtain their associate’s degree and a Journeyman-Apprenticeship Certificate.” Both the company and student come out ahead.
The ability to be responsive to local economic changes and quickly adapt to new workforce training needs through degree programs and short-term training has made community colleges extremely influential in attracting new manufacturing projects to their areas. The community colleges in North Carolina serve as a case study for the benefits of collaborating.
Recent collaborations between the 58 institutions in the NCCCS and many other groups, including four-year colleges, state and local governments, educational associations, technology companies, and external funders, have led to the state becoming a hub for emerging electric vehicle technology.
In the last few years, several major manufacturers of electric vehicles, batteries, and charging stations have announced plans to build plants in North Carolina.
- In March 2022, Vietnamese auto manufacturer VinFast announced the opening of a new electric vehicle manufacturing plant in Chatham County, NC. Although production has recently been delayed until 2025, the company expects to employ more than 7,500 people at the plant. Training for these jobs will occur through a partnership with the NCCCS, which responded less than one day after the announcement by committing $38 million to prepare workers for employment at the VinFast plant. This is the largest economic development project in North Carolina history.
- A few months earlier, in December 2021, Toyota announced that they were locating their new $1.29 billion battery manufacturing plant in Greensboro, NC. When the plant comes online in 2025, it will produce batteries for 200,000 electric vehicles. Among the reasons cited by the CEO of Toyota Motor North America for choosing this location were the diverse available workforce, world-renowned education system, and strong local and state partnerships. The plant is expected to create 1700 jobs with an average salary of more than $62,000.
- Siemens is currently manufacturing charging infrastructure for electric buses and other large vehicles in Wendell, NC to support transit systems in Raleigh and Charlotte. In addition to partnering with the local and state governments, Siemens is also collaborating with Wake Tech Community College and North Carolina State University to provide workforce training.
- In February 2023, Kempower, a Finland-based company, announced that it would establish an EV charging station manufacturing facility in Durham, NC, which will create 300 new jobs. According to a press release from Governor Cooper, numerous partners were involved with this project, including state and local governments, NCCCS, North Carolina State University, Durham Technical Community College, and various workforce development boards.
The automotive industry is just one area in which community colleges can help fill gaps in workforce development. Community colleges and business and industry need to work together to close the gaps in other workforce training needs if the nation’s productivity is to keep up with the developments in technology. Through collaboration, community colleges and their partners can help drive the economy.
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