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Governor discusses workforce needs at PCC

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Gov. Roy Cooper watches students working in the hydraulics lab inside of the Walter and Marie Williams Science building at Pitt Community College Tuesday, March 13, 2018.

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By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

WINTERVILLE — Future innovations in how goods are produced and services are delivered requires innovations in how today’s workers are taught, Gov. Roy Cooper said during a Tuesday visit to Pitt Community College.

The governor toured several laboratories in the Walter and Marie Williams building which houses the colleges sciences and biotechnology programs and industrial systems technology laboratory. He also met with about a dozen students, faculty and administrators and a local business representative to discuss what education and skills employees need.

“I am here to talk about the workforce, which may be the biggest issue I deal with as governor,” Cooper said.

“In 2030, 85 percent of the jobs that will exist then have not been invented yet,” he said. “We are in a race for innovation, and education has to be the focal point of making sure we have a workforce that is ready for the jobs of today and tomorrow.”

Cooper said the first priority in preparing workers is getting people access to quality education and job training. This can be done through a free community college education, which he said is possible if federal grants are combined with community college funding.

Businesses also should be involved, Cooper said.

“It’s going to be critical for us to see what industries need from (their) current and future workforce,” he said.

Finally, he said, the state needs to rely on local innovation while recognizing every area of the state is different, and those regional workforces have distinct requirements.

Helping businesses

Emerson Hobgood, vice president of Mestek, which manufactures heating and air conditioning equipment in Farmville, said his company turned to PCC six years ago when it needed to certify welders it already employed.

Since then, PCC has provided Lean Six Sigma training — which teachers employees how to eliminate waste in manufacturing — as well as leadership training for Mestek’s supervisors and preventative maintenance training.

“By (PCC) creating meaningful, customized training programs for us, it has been a big deal,” Hobgood said.

Mestek, which opened in Farmville in 1975 and currently employs about 200 people, now requires future employees to obtain career readiness certification from PCC.

“We feel it has improved the quality of the individuals we are getting,” Hobgood said.

Funding priorities

PCC President Dennis Massey discussed the school’s legislative priorities for the coming fiscal year. He wants to see continuing education programs funded at the same level as full-time curriculum programs, which are based on the number of full-time students enrolled at the school.

“Continuing education is just as important for our society,” Massey said. “Many people don’t have the time to go back to school full time. They have to get that certificate, that training and go back into the workforce.”

He also discussed the need for more funding to update equipment and software used in workforce training programs. 

PCC partners with local biotechnology firms to secure needed equipment and software, said Christina Weeks, biotechnology department chairwoman.

“The equipment itself is pretty automated. It’s the software that is the learning curve,” Weeks said. It also is expensive, she said.

Student success

Cooper also heard from students.

John Paul Ottley came to Pitt to earn his GED. He then moved on to the industrial systems technology program. It offered, electrical, welding and machining — all things he likes to do. Otterly is a full-time student at this time, but said he hopes to pick up an internship or other work in the fall.

There is a need for more businesses to offer internships and apprenticeships so students can work and learn simultaneously, Cooper said.

He noted, however, it can be difficult to start such programs, because of the cost of paying for education and an employee’s salary.

“What (businesses) have found is an amazing returns in the kinds of employees they get,” Cooper said.

Eva Cooper, no relation to the governor, is studying medical engineering technology. When she gradated from high school she took a break from college and worked in industry for four years.

“I really loved the mechanical engineering part of it as well as the research part, so I returned to study this,” Cooper said. She hopes to go into either 3-D printing or research and development.

Justin Perry said he is earning a degree in respiratory therapy because a family member had respiratory problems and he wanted to help others with the condition.

“We’re seeing in health careers (employers) are recognizing local talent is the best talent,” said Thomas Gould, vice president of academic affairs. “They are really looking at our students, our citizens and neighbors in Pitt County to train. They know that investment they are going to make in that training is going to lead to long-term employment. … They know our students have roots in the community, will stay in the community.”

The Pitt health sciences program is the third largest in the state, Cooper said. Its graduates are needed because providing health care in rural areas is a challenge.

Bernard Vereen Jr., a recent PCC graduate now working at the school, discussed an opportunity he had to pursue an environmental research project in Mexico. Vereen said he plans to enroll at East Carolina University because he wants to pursue a career in advertising.

“One thing I want to say about this institution is it helped me focus on who I am as a person and where I want to be in the future, because fresh out of high school I didn’t know what exactly I wanted to do,” he said. 

PCC instructors and staff group helped him focus and finish his degree, Vereen said.

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570. Follow her on Twitter @GingerLGDR.

 

 

 

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