EDITORIAL: Program boosts workforce

Oct. 18, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

Jobs are on most everyone’s minds, and so far, politicians who promised them in the last election cycle have failed to deliver.

But think about it — isn’t it easier to transform an unskilled or marginally skilled worker into a skilled worker than it is for someone in Raleigh or Washington to create jobs out of whole cloth, especially in this economy?

Arguments may differ on that, but what’s hard to disagree with is the connection between education and economic development. We keep hearing about jobs left unfilled for the lack of a qualified workforce and about the importance the role of workforce development plays in boosting a region’s reputation for providing a rich pool of qualified job applicants.

Our local school systems and Central Carolina Community College have partnered to create a program — appropriately called “Central Carolina Works” — that helps address that very thing.

New Lee County Schools Superintendent Andy Bryan says the system is moving toward adopting a goal of ensuring that 100 percent of all high school students in Lee County graduate with some amount of tuition-free college credit. This “diploma-plus” strategy not only enhances the value of a secondary education, but doubles the likelihood — based on research where it’s been done — that a high school graduate will pursue additional post-secondary learning.

That may seem like a small enhancement, but go back to the idea of jobs and workforce development: what matches a prospective employee to an employer with a need? Isn’t it training and education and other hard and soft skills that augment a person’s capacity to fill needs a business or industry might have? Add to that a year or more of college coursework, plus the practical experience of that higher level of education, all within a program its creators say will be self-sustaining after two years, and you have something.

That’s the basis for “Central Carolina Works,” which starts with an innovative model providing a full-time career and college advisor — something quite different than the “guidance counselor” model in place now — to work specifically at each of the three-county area’s nine high schools (one at each school, including Lee County High School and Southern Lee High School in Lee County) to encourage dual college-credit course enrollment. Students will receive individualized guidance about two- and four-year degrees they can pursue using college credits they’re already earning. For those looking at a four-year college track, it’ll give them a jump-start on their post-secondary life; those pursuing technical or vocational careers get a jump-start on making themselves a perfect fit for a job suited to their particular strengths.

Organizers are calling Central Carolina Works a “powerful community collaboration.” It’s an apt description because it involves a partnership between the school districts in Lee, Chatham and Harnett counties, the economic development organizations in the region and public and private funding.

It won’t come cheap — between grants, contributions from county governments and private donations, $750,000 must be raised to get the program funding. But because CCCC gets revenue from dual-enrollment students, the program’s creators — developer Kirk Bradley, who helped spearhead the “Head of Class” project, and CCCC President Dr. Bud Marchant, among others — say it can become self-sustaining after two years.

The benefits we could reap from this program are enormous. Right now, only 5 percent of eligible high school students take advantage of dual-enrollment coursework. Implementing Central Carolina Works and bumping that number to 15 percent would really put central Carolina to work.