Q&A with Western Piedmont Community College

Q&A with Western Piedmont Community College

February 17, 2022

In April 2021, the Golden LEAF Board of Directors awarded $1.5 million through the Community-Based Grants Initiative to Western Piedmont Community College (WPCC) to assist in the construction of a 30,000-square-foot Skilled Trades Solution Center with labs and classroom space to house the construction trades program. This regional project will support the training needs of students from Alexander, Burke, and Catawba counties in the areas of carpentry, masonry, electrical technologies, HVAC, plumbing, and green construction principles.

We asked Michael Daniels, Dean of Applied Technologies at WPCC, and Lisa Miller, Executive Director of the WPCC Foundation, to share how the Skilled Trades Solution Center project was formed and what roles the partnerships play in this regional, collaborative workforce training center.

The Skilled Trades Solution Center building is planned to be completed by early summer 2023 with students using the new space by fall 2023.

What is the industry need for the Skilled Trades Solution Center?

There is a documented regional shortage of skilled trades workers. Our regional partners continue to express the ongoing, critical need for educated workers. Over five-years, the projections for the regional workforce demand in construction trades is 3,734 positions.

What types of programs and credentials will the Skilled Trades Solution Center offer students?

Western Piedmont will focus on workforce development by providing short-term training programs as well as associate degree education that support career pathways in the construction industry. Employers have expressed the need for rapid, specialized education. The short-term skills-based education will be offered in a parallel, articulated program with curriculum classes including an Associate in Applied Science Degree. The programs will allow students to earn stackable credentials in specific skill areas. In addition, WPCC is developing Career and College Promise pathways in construction trades and heavy equipment and estimates 85 high school Career and Technical Education students from the Alexander, Burke, and Catawba county school districts will participate in the program.

What type of companies are you working directly with and what is the relationship?

WPCC is collaborating with regional contractors and subcontractors in the industrial and residential construction field. WPCC has commitments with advisory committee members to provide preferential interviews to program completers. WPCC has also recently become able to register apprenticeship programs which has resulted in more manufacturing industries participating. This model will be replicated for Construction Trades.

How will you connect training completers with industry?

WPCC will continue to expand our Construction Rodeo Trades Competition event that involves construction trades partners and vendors. This activity brings students in direct contact with regional construction employers. WPCC will also replicate practices from engineering programs and allow construction trades employers direct access and interviews of current students and graduates. WPCC will also create work-based learning and internship opportunities between students and regional partners. WPCC will support industries through apprenticeship programs. An important part of our construction program is real world work through construction projects and experiences that will ensure students work with employers and on projects that allow them to demonstrate their skills. 

What are the other partners you are working with and how are those relationships set up?

WPCC has an ongoing partnership with the Western Piedmont Workforce Development Board, Work in Burke, Burke Development Inc., and Burke Partners in Education. WPCC, in tandem with Burke County Public Schools, is developing a high school to community college articulation that will be shared across the region. WPCC purchased two heavy equipment simulators in 2021 to be used in Burke and Alexander counties. Training has already begun in Burke County, and WPCC is purchasing an enclosed trailer which will become a regional, mobile heavy equipment training classroom. The heavy equipment simulator program has been developed in partnership with Catawba Valley Community College (CVCC). WPCC is working with CVCC, and Caldwell Community College & Technical Institute to coordinate curriculum development. WPCC will serve as a resource for construction-related education across the region.

What other funders supported the project and what aspects of the project did they support?

The building is supported by $1.5 million in Golden LEAF funding, NC Connect Bonds, Burke County, and the sale of college property to Homes Urban Morganton Partners, LLC in addition to other miscellaneous sources. The Skilled Trades Solution Center will replace WPCC’s current facilities, which are more than 70 years old. These facilities were sold to Homes Urban, and those funds will aid in the building of the new center.

  • Appalachian Regional Commission grant, $100,000 received, to purchase equipment for our Simulated Heavy-Equipment Operator Education Program which will ultimately be housed in the Construction Trades Solution Center.
  • Appalachian Regional Commission POWER grant, $760,000 (pending), to support 1.5 years of salaries for three new faculty, a Construction Trades Success Coach, and to purchase necessary equipment and supplies for the three new program areas
  • Burke County Government, $1 million over two years, to support construction costs
  • NCConnect Bonds, $1,1955,499.55 received to support construction costs

What would be helpful to know about creating a collaborative, regional project focused on workforce training skills?

Every area that is served by community colleges is different. We must maintain our ongoing partnerships and work closely with other education institutions including post-secondary and secondary to ensure that our curriculum is coordinated and meets the needs in each area. Due to this variance, there must be flexibility in each college’s curriculum to be able to meet their local workforce needs. Communication is the most critical component. In order to prepare students with the education and skills needed to begin a career in the construction industry, our institutions must continue to collaborate and problem solve with the student’s need foremost in mind.

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