N.C. Research Campus struggling to find employees

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Steve Huffman
Mac Holladay said Tuesday that despite tough economic times, the N.C. Research Campus struggles to find qualified employees.
And, he said, that struggle is likely to continue.
“The thing that’s fascinating about your recovery,” he told a group gathered at the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce, “the jobs are going to be there. Will you have the people to fill them?”
Holladay is head of Market Street Services, a consulting firm from Atlanta hired a few years ago to estimate the impact of the Kannapolis-based Research Campus and identify community needs.
He spoke Tuesday to members of a steering committee working on the Cabarrus and Rowan counties Educational and Workforce Development Action Plan.
On Tuesday, Holladay released his firm’s Regional Workforce Assessment plan related to the Research Campus.
He said the demand for educated workers ó those with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fields like science and math ó at the Research Campus is tremendous.
“The more you learn, the more you earn,” Holladay said, relating a fact that he said far too few area residents take to heart.
He said 23 percent of Rowan County residents don’t have so much as a high school diploma. Meanwhile, Holladay said, only 14 percent have bachelor’s or master’s degrees.
He said that while there has been considerable interest among locals in securing jobs in the growing motorsports industry, many are confused about what those positions will entail.
“Motorsports doesn’t want to hire race fans,” Holladay said one of the individuals involved in the increasingly complex field of racing was quoted as saying. “They want professionals with some knowledge of the industry.”
He said that wisdom is apparently lost on many.
Holladay cited figures from Rowan-Cabarrus Community College showing that while the school offers classes in welding that graduates might parlay into jobs in the field of racing, those classes are seldom filled.
“Cabarrus and Rowan counties have to radically increase their pace of education,” read a portion of the assessment that Holladay presented.
He noted that the Research Campus is projected to create 18,136 jobs by 2032. Of that number, 13,616 jobs will be in Cabarrus County while 4,520 will be created in Rowan County.
“Our goal is not to put more jobs in Mecklenburg County,” Holladay promised, a statement that drew a round of chuckles from workshop participants.
He said current economic conditions should encourage anyone capable of returning to school to further their education to do so.
Holladay referred to skyrocketing fuel prices, a housing industry that’s struggling and rising levels of unemployment as reasons the economy continues to sour and reasons workers should continue their educations.
“At best, uncertain, at worst, long-term recession,” Holladay said of current economic conditions. “Add all that up, it puts us in a very precarious position.”
The assessment that Holladay released noted that fewer than 25 percent of idled Pillowtex workers took “full advantage” of higher education services offered by RCCC and other schools after the textile giant filed for bankruptcy in 2003.
They failed to pursue those opportunities, Holladay said, despite the fact that financial assistance was made available to them.
“It speaks to the historic culture that does not value education,” Holladay said of the actions of those laid-off workers.
He said that for decades, in the rural South, there was little need for education ó be it high school or beyond. Holladay said that for the longest while, workers could always go to the local textile mill or furniture factory for work.
He noted that even after Pillowtex closed, for a year or more, its idled workers thought it was just a matter of time before the plant reopened.
They were wrong, Holladay said.
And such opinions, he said, and those workers’ lack of planning to make themselves marketable, has contributed to the employee shortage at the Research Campus.
“I don’t have all the answers this morning,” Holladay admitted. “I have a lot more questions than answers, in fact.”
But he said Rowan and Cabarrus counties need to work to prepare for the jobs that the Research Campus will provide.
“This opportunity’s never going to come this way again,” Holladay said. “It’s never come anywhere I’ve ever seen before.”