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Innovation Center boosts workforce training

Click to enlarge Innovation Center boosts workforce training

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Industry training directors and administrators from community colleges in eastern North Carolina have ... (more)

Click to enlarge Innovation Center boosts workforce training

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Industry training directors and administrators from community colleges in eastern North Carolina have ... (more)

Click to enlarge Innovation Center boosts workforce training

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Ellizon Torres (left), of Southern Lee High School, is congratulated by CCCC President Bud Marchant ... (more)

Click to enlarge Innovation Center boosts workforce training

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Cathy Swindell (left), Central Carolina Community College's director of Industry Services, Katy Caselli, ... (more)

05.31.2013College GeneralFacilities/Buildings

SANFORD - Creative thinking and economic development have joined forces at the Innovation Center in the Lee County Industrial Park.

In little more than a year, what was once a closed-down manufacturing facility has become a powerhouse of workforce training, invigorating economic development in Lee County and beyond.

The turn-around grew out of the vision of the Lee County Board of Commissioners, who bought the facility in 2010, combined with Central Carolina Community College's strong record in skilled industry workforce training.

In just the 10-month period from July 2012 through April 2013, more than 600 workers in area industries have been trained or retrained in the latest manufacturing skills, from instrumentation and calibration to the simulated work environment (SWE), at the college's 6,600-square-foot Industry Training Center in the Innovation Center.

"From a county perspective, the Innovation Center has exceeded our expectations," said Lee County Manager John Crumpton. "With our dependence on manufacturing and the number of companies in the county, job training and workforce development has to be a priority. The Center is a great investment from that perspective, and the county has a great partnership with the college."

Cathy Swindell, CCCC's Industry Services officer, describes the Center as an important resource for meeting the workforce training demands of area industries. She works with companies to offer the latest in industry training skills or to design company-specific training that can be done at the Innovation Center or at the company's plant.

Most of the training is funded through the N.C. Community College System's Customized Training Program, making the training no- or low-cost for the companies.

"Manufacturing has changed," Swindell said. "Low-skill, low-wage jobs are going away, being replaced. There's more automation, higher skill levels, computer literacy, and more employee involvement in how to do the work. As a community college, we are doing what we can to enhance workforce skills so there are workers ready for the jobs that are out there."

The Innovation Center's Industry Training Center includes an eight-bay welding lab, virtual welder, and portable robotic welding education center. An instrumentation and calibration room provides training on pumps, hydraulics, pneumatics, process controls, and related manufacturing skills. The ITC also houses a simulated work environment (SWE) and a large area for other training.

"The Innovation Center has provided numerous growth and learning opportunities for Red Wolf, Inc's. associates," said Ramona Bowling, the Sanford company's director of Quality and Compliance. "From participating in SWE events to Lean Six Sigma, Red Wolf associates have been exposed to different manufacturing tools and added many skills to their tool box and have helped Red Wolf to maintain a culture of continuous learning and improvement leading to increased associate and customer satisfaction."

The Innovation Center runs like a well-oiled machine, humming with a wide variety of workforce training programs. The simulated work environment (SWE) is drawing the interest not only of area industries, but also companies and educators outside of the area. There are only two SWE training facilities in the N.C. Community College System: CCCC's in the eastern region of the state and Forsyth Technical's in the western region.

"Companies are looking for efficiency - that's exactly what the SWE process teaches," said Cleveland Lewis, regional director for the N.C. Customized Training Program, North-Central Region. He was at the Innovation Center April 25, observing the SWE training.

"Representatives from seven community colleges are here today to learn about the simulated work environment so they can share information with industries in their areas about how it can benefit them," Lewis said. "The SWE engages the workforce in the design and decision-making process."

Dr. Peter Wooldridge, interim vice president for Corporate and Continuing Education at Durham Technical Community College, was among those taking the training.

"I came from curriculum and this is a great opportunity for us to learn what our trainers are doing and our students are experiencing, so we can provide better resources," he said. "It is fascinating not only to experience working on a manufacturing floor, but also how the process can change and synergy come together to improve the process. It's exciting to be here."

The first Lean Six Sigma Green Belt class at the Innovation Center started May 24 and concludes in July with a certification exam. The training combines knowledge and implementation of the quality output goals of Six Sigma with the Lean managerial concept that focuses on eliminating waste and variability in manufacturing outcomes.

"This was the pilot program," Swindell said. "After we evaluate it, we'll roll it out as a full-blown course for any industry, healthcare, or service industry - any with interest in improving."

The Caterpillar Youth Apprenticeship Program, which brings together CCCC, Caterpillar, Inc., Lee County Schools, and the N.C. Department of Labor, provides a carefully planned educational and work-experience sequence that benefits not only Caterpillar and other companies seeking well-qualified and trained apprentice welders, but also the youth who will be entering the workforce.

They graduate from high school with a diploma, CCCC welding certificate, specialized welding training at Caterpillar, and work experience in a high-demand career field. The program was featured in the May-June online newsletter of the N.C. Department of Labor.

CCCC recently received a $99,970 grant from the N.C. Rural Center to implement an industrial maintenance technician training program. It will initially target area unemployed and under-employed workers. The Center will also offer a Production Technician Certificate that meets the requirements of the national Manufacturing Skills Standard Council.

"Central Carolina Community College was founded more than 50 years ago to provide skilled workforce training, improve people's lives, and strengthen our communities' economic opportunities," said CCCC President Bud Marchant. "Our mission has expanded in many ways, but our core value remains partnering with our communities and industries to empower people through education and training. The Innovation Center is important in making that happen."

For information on CCCC's industry training programs, visit or call the Industry Services Office at 919-718-7212.