If you’re a business owner in Northeastern North Carolina who needs to train new or existing employees, here is the simplest business advice you will get today:
Honestly, it’s a little bit more complicated than that... but not by much.
“I joke all the time that it's hard to give away free money,” Nicholson said.
Nicholson is the Business Services Representative and Economic Development Coordinator for the NWDB, a division of the Albemarle Commission. Whitmer is the NWBD’s director.
The NWDB works with employers and employees in Camden, Chowan, Currituck, Dare, Gates, Hyde, Pasquotank, Perquimans, Tyrrell and Washington counties. Along with a staff of career advisors and program managers, Whitmer and Nicholson are tasked with growing and retaining employment and job opportunities for Northeastern North Carolina.
Getting the word out is a top priority.
"Making sure that our programs are known across our counties is one of our biggest struggles," Nicholson said.
And while many of the programs are focused on helping the financially disadvantaged and recently displaced find new careers, the NWDB and the state’s NC Works Career Centers exist to share resources and programs with businesses and jobseekers of every type.
"NC Works Career Centers are not the unemployment office,” Whitmer said. “There are a lot of different services that employers (and employees) can access."
Part of this workforce development momentum began after President Barack Obama signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) into law on July 22, 2014. WIOA is designed to help job seekers access employment, education, training, and support services to succeed in the labor market and to match employers with the skilled workers they need to compete in the global economy.
The Opportunity Act helped spawn NC Works, the partnership between North Carolina’s workforce and education agencies. It also launched the state’s 23 Workforce Development Boards that are charged with planning and oversight responsibilities for workforce programs and services in their area.
If you are a North Carolina business in need of adding new, skilled employees or adding new skills to current employees, here are three programs worthy of a closer look.
Let's talk about “skills gaps.”
What’s a skills gap? For a business, it’s that invisible space between what a job candidate CAN do and what you need them to be able to do.
Skills gaps are a serious issue facing American companies, especially in manufacturing. The Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte released studies estimating that U.S. manufacturing will see a shortage of 2 million workers over the next decade.
Imagine you’re an aerospace manufacturing company that needs to expand. Your search for new employees uncovers some promising candidates, but they aren’t as experienced with the kinds of products you produce. They’ll need additional training to get up to speed. Training is expensive and takes time.
As a business owner, you have a couple of options: Keep looking until you find that perfect hire, or accept the responsibility (and cost) of closing those knowledge and skills gaps on your own.
As a North Carolina business owner, you also have another option...
Get some help moving those “not quite” applicants into the “just right” column, with North Carolina’s On-the-Job Training (OJT) program.
OJT can help offset some of the costs of training new workers by reimbursing companies for up to 75% of a new hire’s salary for up to 6 months (depending on several factors including wage, benefits and the size of the company).
“It really is something that I wish more employers would utilize,” said Nicholson. “OJT acts as an incentive for an employer to think outside of the box and to hire an employee that doesn't have 100% of the skills they require.”
The OJT subsidy helps businesses offset the costs of educating new employees and allows displaced workers to get back to work faster. To get started in OJT, businesses need to contact the NWDB and potential employees must be eligible under the federal provisions of the WIOA. Once both are approved, applicants with be matched with positions.
It’s also critical for the NWDB to determine that there is indeed a skills gap. Nicholson uses a pre-established formula and incorporates the job description and candidate’s resume to quantify how many training hours are eligible for reimbursement.
“Either way when you're starting a new job, your employer is going to have to do some sort of training for you,” Nicholson said. “OJT is a more concerted effort to make that training deliberate and on a timeline.”
The concept of apprenticeship has been around for centuries. Broadly defined, apprenticeship is “a combination of classroom education and on-the-job training.” Today, it remains one of the most effective methods for companies to build a skilled, loyal and lasting workforce.
Employers get to teach employees exactly how to do the job that needs to be done. And employees get to earn as they learn.
Modern apprenticeship comes in two forms: pre-apprenticeship and registered apprenticeship. Registered apprenticeship combines education and OJT and can last up to five years. Pre-apprenticeship is a shorter program that offers the option of classroom, OJT or both.
Employers must be registered before they can take on apprentices. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training works with state agencies to make sure your program provides high-quality training and issues Certificates of Completion.
Here’s a great resource for companies interested in taking on apprentices.
While many people think of “workforce development” as the creation of new jobs, a significant part of the work done at the NWDB involves improving jobs that already exist. One of the most effective tools for that job are Incumbent Worker Training Grants, more accurately called “Employee Training Grants.”
Here’s where that “free money” comes into play, because Employee Training Grants (ETG) provide companies up to $10,000 to improve the skills of their current employees.
"Honestly, it's my favorite part of this job because it keeps employees on the job,” Nicholson said.
ETGs are for existing employees, not prospective employees. They can be used for online certifications, classes or specialized training. ETG funds can be used to teach an entire staff, a specific division, or even help a single employee to advance within the company. Any education that can enhance industry knowledge, upgrade existing skills or improve a company’s (or employee’s) competitive edge is eligible.
The competitive grants used to be determined and awarded through a statewide program, but not anymore. While many NC regions stopped offering Employee Training Grants when the state program folded, the NWDB carried on using their own funds.
“Our board developed a local policy to be able to do this because we believe this is an important program,” Whitmer said. “We saw tremendous benefits for the businesses in our region who have had to apply."
According to the NWDB website, "Over $600,000 has been in awarded in the past for businesses in the Northeastern region for trainings that are designed to increase occupational and educational skills for employees, thus improving efficiency, productivity and profit for businesses."
Training grants allow a business to grow from within and give employees the opportunity to grow without having to leave the company behind.
“It's very important because when someone advances to a higher level position, that leaves open an entry level position there that will need to be filled,” Whitmer said.
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