RCCC wins Golden LEAF grant

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 13, 2017

SALISBURY — Rowan-Cabarrus Community College has been awarded a $560,000 grant from the Golden LEAF Foundation to develop a mechatronics program and upgrade equipment for the welding program. 

“We are grateful to Golden LEAF for their continued support of our community’s workforce development needs and appreciate this vote of confidence in our ability to deliver critical advanced manufacturing training,” college President Carol S. Spalding said.  

To assist the state with job creation and address the technical skills gap for companies workers in advanced manufacturing, the Golden LEAF Foundation designed a competitive grants program in partnership with the N.C. Community College System.  

The grant is the largest Golden LEAF award the college has ever received. The goal of the grant is to increase enrollment in manufacturing career paths. The project includes renovation of space on the college’s North Campus in Salisbury, money to develop an associate in applied science in mechatronics degree, and the purchase and installation of welding equipment and equipment to outfit a new mechatronics lab.

College faculty will receive training, led by industry professionals, on the new equipment. 

Manufacturing ranks as the second-largest industry job sector in Rowan County, employing 8,098 workers. Within the North Carolina manufacturing industry, occupations most cited for hiring difficulties include machinists (welders, cutters, solderers and brazers) and industrial maintenance technicians (also known as mechatronics technicians). Through this project, the college will train technicians needed to fill local job vacancies and provide economic stability for the region.  

The new mechatronics lab will include technology and robotics to support distributing, testing, processing, handling, buffering, purchasing, sorting and assembly. The college plans to have the equipment and the new program in place by fall 2018.

“These are no longer ‘dirty’ jobs. It’s a very technically advanced field these days,” said Michael Quillen, vice president of academic programs. “If you’re good at running software, using shortcuts in Microsoft Word or formulas in Microsoft Excel, advanced manufacturing might be for you.”  

Part of the grant includes a partnership with Rowan-Salisbury Schools to support an advanced manufacturing curriculum in engineering, mechatronics and metal fabrication. The two entities, each with their own Golden LEAF grants, are designing the programs so that high school students will be able to earn college credit in the three technical areas. These students will then have the skills for an entry-level position in an industrial or manufacturing company and also gain advanced standing toward a college-level certificate, diploma or degree. 

 “We were thrilled to partner with the Rowan-Salisbury school system to support advanced manufacturing in our community,” said Spalding. “We believe that advanced technology and advanced manufacturing are a crucial next step forward for our region.” 

The college is working on an industrial maintenance technician apprenticeship program with 12 manufacturing firms in the area. This partnership will fill an ever-growing demand for skilled workers. Rowan-Cabarrus will host and register the apprenticeship program, as well as provide all related classroom instruction and oversee on-the-job-training for enrolled apprentices.

Companies involved in this initiative include Alevo, Trelleborg-Boots, S&D Coffee and Tea, Legrand-Pass and Seymour, Hitachi, Perdue and Southwest Packaging. 

In addition to serving degree-seeking students in the mechatronics program, the program will support continuing education training through a partnership with the North Carolina Manufacturing Institute. The institute is a collaboration between private and public partners and investors to link and leverage assets and resources to close the manufacturing skills gap through workforce training. 

According to Golden LEAF, many firms across the state and nation report having difficulty finding workers with the skills necessary for employment in advanced manufacturing. Recent reports have highlighted the mid-skills gap across the country and the need to take advantage of the emerging trend of bringing manufacturing jobs back to the United States.   

The college received eight letters from local business and industry partners in support of this grant proposal, including Vulcan Materials, Custom Plastic Forming and Dura-Bar Metal Services. 

“People get nervous when they hear about jobs in manufacturing. But manufacturing today is different – it’s high-tech and clean,” said Craig Lamb, vice president for corporate and continuing education at Rowan-Cabarrus. “This is a viable and promising career field.” 

The Connect N.C. Bond approved by voters in March 2016 will provide approximately $250,000 for the renovation of space to house the new program. 

Rowan-Cabarrus Community College was also just awarded an additional $403,487 Golden LEAF Foundation grant for the development of a light diesel degree program at the college’s Cabarrus Business & Technology Center on U.S. 29. 

For more information about Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, visit www.rccc.edu/apply2017 or call 704-216-7222.