Community colleges collaborate at learning summit

Sep. 03, 2014 @ 10:35 AM

Randolph Community College and Davidson County Community College took part in the Align4NCWorks Workforce Learning Summit Thursday on the RCC campus to discuss the development of current workforce programs at the schools.

Industry, business, community and educational leaders were on hand for the summit, which is tailored to open dialogue between the colleges and companies that will employee their students. The mission of this collaboration is to devise ways to encourage skilled students to pursue careers with local partners.

The colleges wish to generate a skilled workforce that can compete with surrounding states and make North Carolina a destination rather than a jumping-off point for students.

“I think what is important is that business and industry, as well as two-year education, higher education, conversation is happening. That's the key point,” said Dr. Mary Rittling, president of Davidson County Community College. “We're having a conversation and we're figuring out solutions to the problems and collaborating. There's no magic bullet, but in reality, if we work together, we're going to come up with solutions.”

Thursday's meeting at RCC Continuing Education and Industrial Center in Asheboro was one in a series of learning summits held across the state to identify strategies that will hopefully bring solutions to the challenges faced by institutions of higher learning and industry.

Dr. Scott Ralls, president of the North Carolina Community College System, spoke to the importance of affording students the knowledge of not only how to land high-paying jobs, but to emphasize that those jobs are closer to home than they might think.

“We have a lot of big challenges that will take collective effort,” Ralls said. “One of the things is how to overcome the skills gap ... how to overcome what we call the interest gap. The interest gap is the notion that we have lots of opportunities, we have programs that we are developing and too often, we don't have enough students for those opportunities.”

RCC President Dr. Bob Shackleford echoed those sentiments, lamenting the conversations he has had recently with students who say there is “nothing to do in Randolph County.” He looked across the room and pointed to many of the county's industrial partners to highlight the competitive market in the Piedmont.

Governor Pat McCrory recently announced a new workforce development initiative to bring a more strategic focus to the efforts of community colleges, which are designated as the primary agencies for training the state's workforce. As such, Shackleford said the colleges must continue to shape their vision to suit the needs of students and their future employers.

He believes the summit is one way to accomplish this, but it is just a start.

“We're not only going to use this meeting, but other interactions with industry, and we're going to build a whole database of skills ... that will enable us to enrich that dialogue,” Shackleford said. “Because it's got to be a dialogue. It's not our job just to hand out certificates and diplomas. It's our job to serve the community with producing graduates who can meet the skills gap.”

Staff Writer Daniel Kennedy can be reached at 888-3575, or kennedy@tvilletimes.com.