SANFORD (October 6, 2022) – It’s a pleasant problem to have.
But with electric-vehicle maker VinFast (7,400 jobs) and semiconductor maker Wolfspeed (1,800 jobs) set to open new plants there in 2024,1 Chatham County is looking at 9,000 new jobs to fill.
Who will train all those workers? Most of the jobs will require community college training – can the local college handle it?
“It’s a very exciting opportunity, but it’s one that we need to be very prepared for,” President Lisa Chapman of Central Carolina Community College – which serves Chatham, Lee and Harnett counties – says in the accompanying video.
Community colleges tend to be intensely focused on their local communities. But supplying workers for VinFast and Wolfspeed will require a regional approach to training, Chapman says.
“We need to recognize in today’s world what a regional economy looks like,” she says.
With VinFast, that will involve 10 community colleges working together, with Central Carolina as the lead institution. The others reach from Greensboro to Fayetteville and Henderson:
- Guilford Tech
- Randolph Community College
- Sandhills Community College
- Fayetteville Technical Community College
- Alamance Community College
- Durham Tech
- Vance-Granville Community College
- Wake Tech
- Johnston Community College
“The challenge is to make sure that we’re providing the skills that the companies are looking for today and planning for the future,” Chapman says.
How that will be done remains to be seen – some colleges might offer the same courses, while others offer more specialized training.
The supplier companies that normally surround an auto plant are already knocking on Central Carolina’s door – another group of employees to train.
That will add to the diversity of new jobs in the region, Chapman says. The big plants and their suppliers will also create more demand in traditional community-college fields such health care, public safety, the trades and information technology.
“The opportunities that are coming to this area are going to be multiplied,” she says. “And what’s most important to us is making sure that our local residents are prepared for those jobs.”
THE UNDERTAKING IS MASSIVE. And the folks at Central Carolina aren’t just thinking about having enough workers by 2024 – they’re thinking 10 and 20 years out.
They’ve already reached out to local middle schools to ask them to talk about the new plants with students, and to universities to discuss what bachelor’s or advanced degrees might be needed.
First, the 10 community colleges need to agree on the expectations of training to guarantee consistent quality, Margaret Roberton, Central Carolina’s Vice President of Workforce Development, says in a second video.
“This is how we can think about creating that long-term pipeline of individuals who will be there not just for Years 1 through 3 when they’re scaling up, but in Years 10 and 20 when they continue to be here as part of our communities,” Roberton says.
It will require a person with a deep understanding of the company to serve as a single point of contact with the colleges, she says – the company won’t want to call 10 colleges.
And it will require an understanding of each company’s unique timeline and its short-term needs – “those individuals they need on Day 1 to really begin the (assembly) line,” Roberton says.
But also, “How does the full talent pipeline keep moving forward so that in Year 4 and Year 10, you’re still able to fill those cohorts of needs, as these different companies begin adding new lines, expanding, doing different things?
“When we think about capacity, it’s not thinking about 9,000 jobs tomorrow – it’s really breaking it down and thinking through, ‘What do we need in the first one to three years?’”