Hudson talks job training at Rowan-CabarruS

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 3, 2013

SALISBURY — U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson met with Rowan-Cabarrus Community College leaders Tuesday as part of what he called a “Job Creation through Workforce Training” tour.
But his focus wasn’t on creating jobs. It was on creating qualified workers for the jobs that are already out there.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 12 million people unemployed nationwide, but 3.6 million jobs are still unfilled.
“We just need to make folks aware that they can get the skills here at the college to get those jobs,” Hudson said.
This week, Hudson will make 10 stops at community colleges across North Carolina’s 8th District.
He said the visit to Rowan-Cabarrus felt “like a homecoming,” because he served on its Board of Trustees from 2001-2005 and spent a lot of time on the campus.
During a tour of Salisbury’s north campus, the freshman Congressman stopped to point out a photo of himself as a trustee from several years ago. “I have a better haircut now,” he said.
Hudson said it was on that board that he came to understand the importance of community colleges. When the Pillowtex plant closed in 2003, it left thousands of workers unemployed, and Rowan-Cabarrus was there to retrain many of them for future jobs.
When he visited the college’s machining program, Hudson said he was very impressed with the progress being made there, because students are learning job skills in a shop that looks like a real business.
“It’s amazing how high-tech manufacturing has become,” Hudson said, as an instructor showed him a welding machine.
After the tour, Hudson spoke with a group of college officials at a roundtable meeting.
“I really want to hear from you,” he said. “I want to hear your success stories, your frustrations and what issues I should be looking at.”
Hudson, a member of the House Education and Workforce Committee, said one of the things he’s already working on is fixing the “broken” federal workforce training programs.
“There’s over 50 of them, and they’re so convoluted and hard to access for students,” he said. “If you look at the results, 50 percent of folks that come through those programs don’t have the skills they need to get the jobs they’re looking for.”
He said the House passed a bill two weeks ago called the Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills (SKILLS) Act. The bill, which will now be considered in the Senate, aims to get rid of duplication in the workforce training programs and consolidate them under the Workforce Investment Fund.
“It streamlines those access points for students and gives a lot more flexibility to the local workforce boards and colleges to meet the needs of the local community,” Hudson said.
He said some lawmakers are concerned that students won’t get the training they need under the SKILLS Act, but “I trust you a lot more than I trust a bureaucrat who doesn’t know how to pronounce ‘Salisbury.’”
Later, Hudson asked whether the college has problems working with local high schools to provide career and technical training.
Dr. Hasan Naima, dean of engineering and business technologies, said the college and the Rowan-Salisbury School System are communicating well. There are some programs that allow students to earn community college credit while taking high school classes, he said, but expanding those programs is difficult for schools.
“They would like to do it and let the students earn college credit, but the problem is transportation,” Naima said.
If a program is only offered at a certain location, then schools or parents have to find a way to get students to and from the class.
Dr. Carol Spalding, president of Rowan-Cabarrus, said the college will be meeting with area business leaders to ask about “jobs of the future” and what gaps in skills it could help fill. The college then hopes to form partnerships with some of those businesses to provide job training.
“Any tax incentives you guys could approve for that would be helpful,” she said.
Spalding also brought up changes that are coming to the GED test, which Hudson said he heard about just the day before. The test format is changing, its cost is rising and it will be entirely computer-based.
“We find that to be a huge hurdle for people,” she said. “We’re trying to keep education accessible and barrier-free.”
The college offers free GED classes through a federal program, and it is encouraging people to complete their tests this year. Spalding said she doesn’t know whether Hudson could help ease the impact of the changes, but she hopes he can do something.
After the meeting, Spalding said she appreciated Hudson’s visit, especially because he has such close ties with the college.
Hudson will be returning to Rowan-Cabarrus on Thursday at 9:30 a.m. at the college’s south campus in Concord.

Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.