Centralina WDB, Employers, and Workforce Partners Participate in Business Roundtable with Senator Kay Hagan


U.S. Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC) last month hosted a Business Roundtable discussion focused on workforce development at the JobLink Career Center in Matthews.

The Business Roundtable discussion centered on ways that assistance providers such as workforce development boards, JobLink Career Centers, and the North Carolina Community College system work with private employers to identify and fill training needs. Their goal is to ensure that workforce capabilities meet industry needs and standards.  

"Senator Hagan understands that the business community and entities like our workforce development boards and community college system are linked closely to ensure the North Carolina workforce is prepared for the economy of the 21st Century," said David Hollars, Centralina Workforce Development Board (WDB) Executive Director, "We're committed to the workforce being trained to meet the economic needs of each community and of specific employers."

The Business Roundtable was developed to give Senator Hagan the opportunity to hear about the training needs that companies currently have, from private employers who participated. The discussion also focused on what steps public sector participants are taking or have taken to bring the workforce to full training.

David Hollars was chosen to represent workforce development boards at the event and gave his insight into the current issues that affect the region and workforce development. The summary of key points he presented for the Senator can be accessed here.

When asked what employers needed to be successful, Jeff Frushtick, President and CEO of Leonard Automatics Inc., of Denver, N.C. (Lincoln County), underscored the need for qualified workers. Leonard is poised to expand beyond its current 30 employees but is stuck in a hiring limbo because of a lack of qualified workers, especially specialized machinists, according to Frushtick.

"Finding mechanical engineers today who have the experience or background of machine design and metal fabrication – that is a dying trade," Frushtick said. "Everybody we talk to wants to do model simulation calculations for sending spaceships to the moon. Going back to the basics of manufacturing, we're missing out."

Told of various programs available to Leonard, Frushtick noted, "We're a small company. We don't know these things. The information is not filtering down to the small employer." Hagan said she's determined to change that problem by fostering better communication between federal, state and local workforce programs, especially those administered by community colleges, and small businesses.

Funding for workforce training is also an issues, according to Tony Zeiss, President of Central Piedmont Community College and a panelist at the roundtable.

"We're turning away about 9,000 students a year who can't get the classes they need because we don't have the resources to do it, so that's problematic," Zeiss said. "On the other hand, we work very closely with a lot of wonderful businesses in customized training. We're also working really hard with dislocated workers to help put them back to work."

Zeiss and Hagan noted the stakes are very high. "We're in a global jobs war," Zeiss said. "We've lost too many manufacturing and textile jobs overseas." Hagan added, "and on my watch I don't want that to happen."

Hagan touted her America Works Act, which she introduced in June and which aims to connect people looking for work with employment opportunities. The act creates a nationwide program that allows workers to receive industry-recognized, portable credentials from local community colleges that qualify them for employment in any state.

Other panelists at the roundtable also expressed frustration at their inability to find and hire skilled workers.

Ellen Sheppard, President of the Carolinas College of Health Sciences and member of the Competitive Workforce Alliance Allied Health Regional Skills Partnership, called for a renewed emphasis on STEM - science, technology, engineering and math - courses in middle schools and high schools. Hagan agreed and suggested a future roundtable that includes area school superintendents.

Zeiss noted that the percentage of recent high school graduates who come to Central Piedmont Community College who need remediation is 76 percent. That number drew an audible gasp from the panel. Zeiss noted that the biggest obstacle for students is math.

Cheryl Wingate, Vice-President of Talent Acquisitions and Movement for Time Warner Cable, also talked of specialized training needs in her industry. "We have an opportunity to expand some of the customized training on the front end so that we can build a bigger pool of candidates," Wingate said.

At the end of the roundtable, which was preceded by a tour of the Matthews JobLink Career Center and observation of a ProNet meeting, Senator Hagan pronounced the event a success but recognized the work ahead, especially with small businesses such as Leonard Automatics.

Photo above: Sen. Kay Hagan leads a discussion with, from left, David Hollars of Centralina Workforce Development Board; Jeff Frushtick of Leonard Automation Inc.; and Tony Zeiss, Central Piedmont Community College president.

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Related COG Areas: Workforce Development