The Mitchell County Chamber of Commerce working with the High Country Workforce Development Board has been awarded a grant from the NC Department of Commerce “Maximize Carolina” program. The $75,000 grant (with 15% of the amount being provided by matching funds from local partners) will assist in kicking off a Mitchell County workforce education and awareness initiative for local students.
The project was developed in response to many existing companies indicating they are struggling to find and retain employees. This is especially true in the manufacturing industry. Feedback from local industry and employers has established that there is a lack of understanding on what career opportunities are available in Mitchell County and that locating the information when available is extremely difficult. The new workforce initiative funded by the Maximize Carolina Grant and other partners will begin to address the gaps in information on types of jobs available in the marketplace now and growth areas anticipated in the future. It will tie these opportunities to the training required to successfully attain these positions (much of the training being available through Mayland Community College) and provide information on possible assistance with funding the required training.
The program is modeled after the Work In Burke program facilitated by the Burke Development Inc. The Burke County program was addressing the same issues that the industry in Mitchell County is facing and became a great resource for the project. The project was referred to the Mitchell County Chamber by the regional NC Economic Development Partnership Industry Manager, Bill Slagle. “The staff at Work in Burke have been very supportive in seeing their project become a model for Mitchell County, said Patti Jensen, Director of the Mitchell County Chamber of Commerce. “The Work in Burke program has been very successful and we appreciate their program staff being such a great resource for replicating their project in Mitchell County.”
The campaign is a joint effort with partners from across the county, region and state, including: local business and industry, Mayland Community College, Mitchell County Public Schools, Mitchell County Chamber of Commerce, High Country Workforce Development Board, Mitchell County EDC and others. Work will begin immediately with a partnership with Mitchell County Schools CTE program to survey students and parents in the school system to gather their input and feedback on workforce issues. The next steps will include creating the content for a robust website and a multi-media outreach plan aimed at providing needed information to primarily middle and high school students and their parents. Plans are to expand the reach of the program as more resources become available. Plans are to work with the students in the school system to have them be a part of the branding of the project as well with their input and feedback.
“When meeting with our industry partners, we were hearing of the issues they were having in finding qualified workers to meet the needs of their business and also their concerns about the future workforce pipeline that would feed their future expansions and employment needs,” said Jensen. These conversations with business leaders led to the Chamber researching opportunities to help and respond and this led them to the Work in Burke program and the Maximize Carolina grant. “We appreciate the assistance provided by the NC Department of Commerce to our efforts’, said Jensen. With the fast changes taking place in in the workplace, it is increasingly important for all students to continue their education beyond high school whether through certification programs or degrees. With all our partners engaged in these efforts, we believe we can close the information gap that exists and assist more of our students in finding a career that is right for them right here in Mitchell County. “
The Maximize Carolina Sector grants are designed to “address skills gaps in robust and emerging industry sectors” according to the NC Commerce website. These grants can be used to address challenges such as applicants lacking specific skills, lack of sector brand awareness and work-based learning opportunities.
“The CTE program in Mitchell County Schools and the workforce development programs at Mayland Community College are doing an excellent job in working with our students and our community. Our local industry is stepping up to the plate to be engaged partners with our education systems as well. This new initiative will be a piece of the puzzle to support these programs in the community and try to fill any gaps that our education and business industry partners feel are needed,” said Jensen.
In addition, the Chamber has also received support for this initiative from the NC General Assembly as well as Duke-Energy and the Mitchell County Economic Development Commission. “We appreciate the General Assembly, Duke Energy and our EDC office for coming on board so early in this project, showing their support for workforce development in our communities and their confidence in this initiative, said Jensen.