Training Opens Doors to New Jobs for Veterans

By Michael Abramowitz
The Daily Reflector

August 4, 2013 – East Carolina University and Pitt Community College are giving veterans a career boost and showcasing an economic development model that builds on human capital to fill the growing needs of area industries.

ECU, PCC, the City of Greenville and their industry partners in Operation Reentry N.C., a national research support organization funded by the Department of Defense, are piloting a two-week training course called “Tools for Advanced Manufacturing for Veterans.”

The program, which began Monday and ends on Friday, addresses the needs of veterans entering civilian life and supports manufacturers seeking technically skilled leadership-oriented employees, according to information from Ruthann Cage of the ECU Office of Innovation and Economic Development.

The 16 pilot students are being assessed for their readiness for civilian job requirements, skills development and hands-on opportunities to explore advanced manufacturing equipment and technology, including robotic machinery.

The trainees may earn credentials that include certification in National Career Readiness, Lean/Six Sigma industrial efficiency and OSHA workplace safety. They also were counseled by PCC staff who helped them explore options for further expanding their skills and education.

Christopher Burford, a 23-year-old Marine veteran who worked as an administrative clerk while in active duty, got excited about the hands-on training he received in robotic assembly from Cody Alexander, also a veteran, now employed at PCC.

“I want to explore new things, trying to learn anything that will offer me a good future and a good income,” Burford said. “I’m fascinated by what I’m learning and I know I can make a good career out of this.”

The program is valuable to ECU for a variety of reasons, primarily that it is the right thing to do, according to Ted Morris, principal investigator for Operation Reentry.

“As (a large) university in North Carolina situated in the third densest military corridor in the nation, reintegrating veterans and their families as quickly and effectively as possible is a matter of social, economic, health and educational importance to the people of eastern North Carolina,” Morris said.

“We know that veterans and their families will come to Greenville when they separate from the service, especially when the new Veterans Administration hospital opens. They will come disciplined, determined and motivated … and ready to work without many of the barriers that prevent employers from hiring many other candidates.”

Training skilled workers for advanced manufacturing is only one available application of the larger model for economic development that planners in ECU’s Office of Innovation and Economic Development had in mind. They have created a process that allows all the stakeholders in a community to use their resources to attract and retain target industries by training and producing talented candidates to meet the needs of each particular business.

“The selection of advanced manufacturing as the first track for this pilot training program makes sense because of all the advanced manufacturing companies we have in the region,” Morris said. “We think we might select other tracks in the future, such as a health care track.”

ECU’s work in developing the career readiness training program for Operation Reentry N.C. and wider applications has earned it a place among four finalists for the University Economic Development Association’s Award of Excellence in Talent Development competition to be held in October in Pittsburgh, Pa., Cage said.

The program seemed like a winner in every aspect to Derek Hunter, chairman of the Industrial Technologies Division at PCC.

“It also is an opportunity for PCC to showcase what we do,” Hunter said. “We amaze people when we show them what we do to provide skill sets that employers are looking for.”

The college has a strategic plan for accommodating current population growth, but the growth that advanced manufacturing could bring to the area and the demand for even more skilled employees will only add to that challenge, Hunter said.

“Pitt Community College is rated as the most over-crowded campus in the entire community college system,” he said. “Space constraints are a problem for the entire campus, including the industrial technologies division.”

A bond referendum scheduled for November could provide an opportunity for expansion, if passed, Hunter said.

The training course cost about $7,000 to operate, but is free for the veterans, funded primarily by the Champions of Freedom Fund through private corporate support.

Local advanced manufacturing firms participating in the effort include ASMO-NA, Attends Healthcare Products, DSM, Mestek, Inc., NAACO Materials Handling Group and PCS Phosphate.

Contact Michael Abramowitz at mabramowitz@reflector.com or 252-329-9571.