Last week (mid-August), the school board voted to proceed with the design phase of a new technical high school that would replace the Career Center at Hilly Branch. Whatever opinion you may have had of the board’s Rowland-Norment/Tanglewood decision, this latest move could be a positive step towards addressing some critical challenges facing our county – especially those pertaining to the “skills gap” in our workforce.
The coexistence of high unemployment alongside businesses struggling to fill job openings has been widely considered a significant impediment to our nation’s recovery. This skills gap also holds true for our economy here in southeastern North Carolina, and was made abundantly clear at a local employer’s roundtable held last November. Among those in attendance were representatives from Bartlett Nuclear, DuPont, Lumbee River EMC, Service Thread, and other companies.
Employers were unanimous in their concern that students and young adults often don’t understand that there are good paying careers within technical trades and advanced manufacturing. Recognizing that industry needs are constantly evolving, roundtable leaders encouraged more collaboration between the school systems, community colleges, and all entities involved with developing the skilled, competent, and reliable workforce that is vital to a growing economy.
Despite budget cuts and limitations of old, cramped facilities, staff and students at Hilly Branch are achieving more than ever, due in part to smart industry engagement. Whether they are building new code-compliant homes, earning nationally-recognized credentials, or linking graduates to corporate scholarship opportunities, one can only speculate what difference a modern, newly equipped career and technical high school might make.
$33.3 million is a significant investment, but with active support from the private sector, and strengthened sequential training between PSRC, RCC, and UNCP, the returns could be tremendous in our efforts to attract high-caliber industries, grow and retain talent, and ultimately, raise the standard of living here in our county.
Ryan Nance is executive director of the COMtech business park. He can be reached at 910-522-9944 or firstname.lastname@example.org.