BY DEBBIE PAGE
The Iredell Ready coalition welcomed community leaders, business and industry representatives, and education professionals to its Iredell Ready Workforce Forum on Monday to unveil the organization’s new website.
This years-long project is an effort to consolidate resources that will help Iredell County residents identify opportunities to pursue their chosen career pathways and to find gainful employment with industry. The website will also help develop a skilled workforce to support recruitment, retention, and workforce development efforts across the county.
Iredell Ready (https://iredellready.com/) was established in 2022 as the result of a partnership of industry, academic, government, and nonprofit community representatives to identify, align, and enhance strategic priorities across the workforce development pipeline.
The website features tabs geared toward students who are exploring career and training opportunities, residents looking to connect to new careers or who are seeking additional training and education, businesses looking to recruit, and information about training opportunities and certifications.
Upcoming Iredell Ready events and career training opportunities are also featured.
Iredell County Board of Commissioners Chair Melissa Neader opened the event, noting the challenges employers have to find qualified employees. Iredell Ready can also help the estimated 75 percent of workers who feel stuck at some point in their careers.
“Employees are the heartbeat of a business. We don’t do a job by ourselves. We are a team. We rely on each other and problem-solve and work together,” Neader said.
Iredell County Economic Development Corporation CEO and President Jen Bosser thanked the founding partners who joined in this effort, including Iredell-Statesville Schools, NC Works, Centralina Workforce Development Board, the Greater Statesville Chamber of Commerce, Iredell County, Mitchell Community College, and Mooresville Graded School District.
These partners donated $750,000 to the organization over three years to fund Iredell Ready’s efforts.
The Iredell Ready coalition has six strategic priorities: Preparing the Pipeline, Amplifying Workforce Initiatives & Programs, Strengthening Industry & Education Partnerships, Aligning Curriculum to Industry Needs, Creating Relevant Learning Opportunities, and Upskilling & Reskilling our Existing Workforce.
Bosser said the website was designed to empower students, parents, career-change seekers, and returning workers to explore career pathways and to strengthen partnerships between local business and industry to recruit, hire, and develop a pipeline for workforce development.
David Springer, whose marketing firm Springer Studios, guided the website and content development, gave an overview of the multi-year development of the Iredell Ready mission, audience, logo, and resources.
Bosser challenged the audience to explore the website, share it on social media to spread the word about this invaluable resource, to follow Iredell Ready on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/iredellready) and Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/iredellready/), and to get engaged with Iredell Ready as a partner and to utilize its offerings.
Former N.C. Rep. John Fraley, chair of MyFutureNC, described this statewide nonprofit organization, a cross-sector collaboration between North Carolina leaders in education, business, and government, which focuses on educational attainment,.
Fraley shared his organization’s goal of ensuring that by 2030, 2 million North Carolinians (target age 25-45) possess a high-quality credential or a postsecondary degree to address the “talent crisis” in the state’s workforce.
Fraley said that in 2017, only 47 percent of NC citizens in the age 25 to 44 target group had a degree or high-quality credential; however, two-thirds of the available jobs require such accomplishments.
That talent and achievement gap led to the formation of MyFutureNC in 2019 to study the state’s workforce and educational needs and to implement strategies to raise that percentage to 67 percent by 2030.
The group’s efforts and its support of local and regional workforce development collaboratives has paid off. By 2021, that number rose to 1.55 million, a gain of 199,200 people earning degrees/high quality credentials since 2016 data, which then stood at 1,356,343.
However, MyFutureNC projects that at the current rate of increase, the state will still be 80,000 short of its 2030 2 million goal. Fraley welcomed the addition of Iredell Ready’s efforts to help bridge that gap.
Fraley congratulated Iredell Ready partners for their accomplishments thus far, including improving the county’s high school graduation rates, increasing community college enrollment, getting local industry engaged in its efforts by offering internships, apprenticeships, and other opportunities, and starting career development preparation with middle school and even elementary school students.
“We have to continue to ask: what can we do together that cannot be done alone? We have to adopt local goals and stay laser-focused, keeping students and business at the core of the mission.”
“You are poised for success,” concluded Fraley.
The forum also featured “spark sessions” led by representatives of local businesses, schools and colleges, and community organizations, which featured inspiring stories of students finding success and invaluable training and experience in apprenticeships or internships, an 80 year-old seeking a new career, and events like I-SS’s Careers on Wheels program for sixth-graders to explore various career options.
Brady Johnson, director of operations for the Boys & Girls Club, noted that “God does a great job of distributing talents, but we do not do a good job of distributing opportunities.” He said that families struggling daily with paying for food and rent do not have the time to explore career opportunities for themselves and children.
His organization tries to fill that gap by taking students on career exploration field trips and providing academic support to help open their eyes to the career and educational opportunities possible in the county.
Piedmont Healthcare’s Director Of Operations and Human Resources Jeff Taylor said “we believe in better futures.” He touted the Apprenticeship NC program in which students can earn degrees at state expense while working to earn to meet their financial needs. PHC also offers opportunities for current employees to earn additional certifications.
Taylor Favors is a nurse apprentice at PHC while pursuing her nursing degree at Mitchell Community College. She praised the ability to work, learn, and earn in a real medical environment while going to school at state expense. “I am becoming a nurse without financial worry and gaining work experience,” Favors said.
Jet East recently announced the addition of 250 new jobs over the next two years at its jet maintenance facility at the Statesville Airport. The company is working with Iredell Ready to execute a customized workforce strategy to prepare future employees that they are onboarding at the rate of five to 10 per week.
Mitchell Community College Vice President Carol Johnson said the college has expanded workforce development options in healthcare, information technology, and advanced manufacturing fields, and can offer training customized to specific business and industry needs.
“We want to take people where they are and help them become who they could be,” she said.
Crosby Scholars offers support and peer counseling to disadvantaged youth who join the program. Having a young peer counselor like Mariah Roseboro, who is a recent college graduate, is more effective with high school students.
Roseboro said she was glad to return home to Iredell County and seeks to be a “pillar in the community.” She joined Crosby Scholars herself as a high school sophomore and said the support helped so much to “bridge the gaps and know you can do big things and take opportunities.”
MGSD Career Development Coordinator Kevin Wilson introduced Mooresville High senior Rylan Wilkinson, who is in the Apprenticeship 2000 program at Ameritech Die and Mold in Mooresville. He is getting to work, earn, and train in the four-year program, through which he will earn an electronics degree.
Ameritech’s Mark Rotman said the apprenticeships help generate a spark for high-tech advanced manufacturing careers, and the participating students are positioning themselves for a faster track to success.
After the spark sessions, Iredell Ready partners, community leaders, and presenters gathered on the stage of the Charles Mack Citizen Center auditorium to cut a ceremonial ribbon to officially launch the website.