Community Colleges Prepare Workforce for Research Triangle Region Cluster Needs

Research Triangle Region, N.C. – While regional, state and national leaders focus on creating jobs and driving economic recovery, North Carolina’s community colleges work nimbly and effectively, as they have for decades, to ensure that businesses of today and tomorrow find a workforce that is ready, willing and prepared to help them compete and thrive.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the Research Triangle Region, where seven community colleges collaborate closely with regional economic developers and businesses to ensure that their curricula and training programs align and support the needs of companies in the region’s targeted clusters.

“Our region regularly ranks among the best in the world for its skilled, quality workforce. Our community colleges are a major reason why,” says Charles A. Hayes, president and CEO of the Research Triangle Regional Partnership (RTRP), which leads economic development for the 13-county region that surrounds The Research Triangle Park.

“Collaborative planning and resource alignment among education providers, trainers and workforce clusters is critical to a successful economic development strategy,” says Carver Weaver, director of business retention for the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce, one of RTRP’s 13 member county economic development organizations. “Providing qualified talent enables an industry to grow, increasing its capacity for community investment and creating a diversified, sustainable economic climate for the region.”

That work is fundamental to the mission of community colleges, says William R. Tyson, provost of the Harnett County campus of Central Carolina Community College.

“As a college, we have aligned our programming with these clusters simply because there is or soon will be a workforce demand for graduates who have those skills.”

Program alignment keeps industries competitive

North Carolina’s tradition of targeted workforce training dates back to 1957 with the creation of the Industrial Education Centers and the nation’s first customized training program for business and industry. This forerunner of the N.C. Community College System established a unique tradition and culture for workforce development that exists today: colleges that understand the emerging opportunities for business growth in the regions they serve and that work closely with businesses and economic developers to prepare the workforce for the jobs that will be created.

One of the most visible recent examples is BioWork, a training course to prepare process technicians for the region’s bioprocess, pharmaceutical and chemical manufacturing companies. BioWork was created by a cooperative effort led by Novozymes North America, developer and manufacturer of industry enzymes, based in Franklin County. Novozymes funded the construction of training labs and donated a live enzyme reactor to the Franklin County campus of Vance-Granville Community College. The training program was developed by a team from that campus with Novozymes, the N.C. Biotechnology Center and 16 regional biotechnology companies and launched there in 2001.

Today, that course is one component of a comprehensive portfolio of training programs and services, called BioNetwork, offered through a network of seven community college centers across North Carolina that support expansion of the biotechnology cluster statewide. The Research Triangle Region’s biotechnology cluster now ranks among the top 10 in the world.

That is one of many examples of programmatic alignment with industry cluster growth, says Bill Terrill, director of industry training for Wake Technical Community College.

“World-class operations need a world-class workforce and targeted training programs help us provide that to industries, which keeps them competitive,” he says.

Terrill directs Wake Tech’s new automation training series, a program that supports the high-speed automation needs of the region’s pharmaceutical industry. It includes mechanical, electrical, programmable logic controller, pneumatic and hydraulic troubleshooting.

“Pharmaceutical companies have invested heavily in complex, highly automated machinery,” he says. A machine that breaks down can cost the company $1,000 per minute. The new machines each have mechanical, electrical and computer components so the program cross trains mechanics, electricians and technicians in all three disciplines.

“For companies to stay competitive, they must have an in-house capability to troubleshoot and maintain these machines so they stay running,” Terrill says. “It’s a new generation of machines and we’re updating current maintenance personnel to accommodate this new technology.”

The college’s close connection with local industries also enables it to spot cluster cross-over training opportunities, as well.

For example, Wake Tech recently developed a simulation video game to train employees at Eisai Pharmaceuticals to use and repair its pill presses. The training game was developed through the college’s simulation and game development program, which was created to support the region’s interactive gaming and e-learning cluster and now adapted to meet a pharmaceutical manufacturing training need.

New programs respond rapidly to new economy needs

Renewable energy, green building and sustainability are emerging clusters that are calling for employees and Central Carolina Community College is answering that call. Its sustainability technologies program prepares students for careers in this field in two tracks: renewable energy and green building.

“We’ve been pioneers in sustainability education,” says Laura Lauffer, sustainability coordinator for the Chatham County branch of Central Carolina. “We started the first associate degree program for sustainable agriculture in the United States 10 years ago and added a degree in biodiesel five years ago. Last year, we added the green building and renewable energy degrees. Many students find work before completing their degree requirements.”

Chatham County Economic Development Corp. president Dianne Reid says the college contributes significantly to regional economic development.

“Central Carolina’s pioneering sustainability programs are helping position Chatham County and the Research Triangle Region as a premier location for clean and green industries,” Reid says.

Vance-Granville Community College has designed a global logistics technology degree program in response to a rapidly growing demand for workers in warehousing, distribution management, imports and exports, international transactions and transportation logistics. The new program, now also offered at Wake Tech, serves all of the region’s clusters and is particularly important to economic development in more-rural areas. Rural areas, with large tracts of available land in close proximity to major transportation routes, are ideal locations for logistics and distribution companies.

Walter Martin, a regional global logistics expert who developed and directs the program at both campuses, says this program directly impacts economic development in the region.

“This is the kind of industry that hires a lot of people in a short amount of time,” he says. “When we can provide an employer with a workforce that is trained in all these skill sets and is ready to work, we reduce their startup time and lower their costs. Our logistics training capabilities and proximity to airports, ports and major interstates ensures this area is ‘logistics ready’ for any corporation.”

Johnston Community College also works directly with regional industries to meet their needs, says Joy Callahan, dean of economic and community development.

“Every 18 months we train 300-700 employees in a three-week, customized turnaround training for the biotech industry,” she says. “We also have up to six customized training projects per year, with at least three of them typically for biotechnology companies.” Johnston also has the largest BioWork program in North Carolina, with 60 to 80 students graduating every semester.

Sandhills Community College offers an applied science associate degree in simulation and gaming development, extending the training for employees in the region’s growing gaming cluster. The program offers hands-on training in design, 3D modeling and programming for practical applications in creative arts, visual arts, audio/video technology, creative writing, modeling, design, programming and management.

Health care cluster programs expand

As the region’s advanced medical care cluster expands, so do programs to support it.

The Harnett County branch of Central Carolina is driving development in health sciences training with its allied health education center planned for construction next to a new hospital being built in Lillington, scheduled for completion in 2013.

“With the hospital being located at the new Brightwater Science and Technology Campus along with Campbell University’s College of Pharmacy and Health Science and planned medical school, this 50,000-square-foot, cutting-edge training facility will provide Harnett County residents with training for jobs emerging in Harnett County,” says provost Tyson. “We’ll be providing support staff for every level of the medical facilities except doctors.”

Durham Technical Community College is also designing new health care programs. It currently offers the nation’s only community college-based associate degree program in clinical trials research.

“Durham Tech has been instrumental in supporting our region’s growing advanced health care cluster,” says Ted Connor, vice president of economic development and community sustainability for the Durham chamber. “The college is not standing still and is looking to supplement its current offerings to better support our growing economy.”

Pam Senegal, dean of career and technical programs for Durham Tech, cites its new health informatics technology training program as an example of the college’s ability to cater to industry needs. “The whole program is being developed due to industry saying, ‘Here is our need,’” she says.

Piedmont Community College supports the medical care cluster with a new program in health care management technology, which prepares students for jobs in health care business and financial operations. Sandhills Community College offers an extensive allied health and nursing curricula to support this cluster and is expanding its campus to accommodate new programs.

“The whole purpose of community colleges is to prepare the region’s workforce,” Senegal says. “When companies are ready to locate here or to grow an organization, they know they can count on us for a skilled, prepared workforce.”

For more information on regional community college programs, visit:

Central Carolina Community College
Durham Technical Community College
Johnston Community College
Piedmont Community College
Sandhills Community College
Vance-Granville Community College
Wake Technical Community College

The Research Triangle Regional Partnership (RTRP) leads economic development for the Research Triangle Region of North Carolina, home of The Research Triangle Park (RTP) and the 13 north-central N.C. counties of Chatham, Durham, Franklin, Granville, Harnett, Johnston, Lee, Moore, Orange, Person, Vance, Wake and Warren. For more information, visit or call (919) 840-7372.