TRACKING TRENDS : New Courses at NC Colleges Point to Skills Employers Seek
New Courses at NC Colleges Point to Skills Employers Seek
By EMERY P. DALESIO, Associated Press
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Tracking computer crime is gaining traction in Winston-Salem. Learning to develop video games is peaking in Goldsboro. And workers ready to handle high-voltage electrical equipment are needed most everywhere.
North Carolina’s community college system is one indicator of which jobs right now are hot, and which are not. The 58-campus system is constantly developing courses that provide the skills that local employers want, from nursing to pastry arts, and dropping others where job prospects are wanting.
The board of the country’s third-largest community college system recently approved 10 associate degree programs that feasibility studies found have jobs waiting for graduates.
“We have the ability to start up programs and close programs based on our workforce needs,” chief academic officer Sharon Morrissey said. Colleges get permission to “start the program knowing that there will be jobs for people who graduate.”
About half of the community college system’s more than 850,000 students of various levels are starting a track that will let them complete an associate degree and then go on to a university. About 300,000 students are looking for a certificate or degree that will prove they’re prepared for a particular job.
Associate degrees in health care have long been hot, along with law enforcement training. But the demands of local economies mean that other programs are coming and going.
About two dozen degree programs were cut last year, according to a report prepared for state lawmakers. So when the real estate market in the Asheville area collapsed, so did the local community college’s offering of a real estate appraisal degree. More than 50 programs were started last year, including the first in the state for training bilingual interpreters who work around doctors and hospitals.
Students entering the cybercrime technology program at Forsyth Technical Community College starting this fall can know that about two dozen private security jobs should be available when they graduate at an average entry-level salary of nearly $43,000 per year.
The FedEx hub, aircraft maintenance companies such as TIMCO Aviation Services and other aircraft companies around Greensboro’s airport have created a demand for aviation electronics technicians earning an average of $16 an hour to start.
Wayne Community College is starting a simulation and game development curriculum to train animators, programmers, and others in demand in the entertainment industry, health care, education, corporate training, and government organizations. The school estimates a starting salary of $30,525 a year.
Where does the promise of jobs come from?
“Sometimes it’s an existing industry asking for a more highly skilled, more highly trained workforce and sometimes it’s the new company that may be moving into your county and you want to be sure you’ve got a trained workforce to lure that company,” said Morrissey, a former college president in Richmond County. “An existing company might reach out to the college and say, ‘We need welders. We need welders trained at a higher level than what you’ve provided for us in the past, so can we partner with you to get a stronger welding program in place?’”
That’s what happened to Richmond Community College President Dale McInnis a month after he took the job last spring.
A long-term acquaintance and local manager for Progress Energy complained that though the company had been hiring the school’s graduates from one electrical technology program, it was taking the company too long to train them to work on the utility’s network of relay and substations.
The utility was weeks away from opening a new gas-fired power plant that required a new 64-mile-long transmission line to deliver the electricity to customers. But while one community college trained workers for work in the power plants and another trained linemen to work on the transmission lines, the people who fixed the substations that pushed the power along its route weren’t there, McInnis said.
“It was a niche that needed to be filled,” he said. The school worked with Progress Energy to develop the training program that would open doors to jobs with the Fortune 500 company, he said.
The utility jobs also offer security for the rural communities along the South Carolina border shattered by the loss of thousands of textile jobs to foreign competition, McInnis said.
“You can’t worry about folks outsourcing or downsizing the utility system. People can’t get electricity from overseas,” he said.