NCEDA Research Committee Blog: Celebrating Local Workforce
Innovations in North Carolina

NCEDA Research Committee Blog: Celebrating Local Workforce
Innovations in North Carolina

Celebrating Local Workforce Innovations in North Carolina

Written By: Veronica Green, NCWorks Commission


Since the release of the First in Talent Plan last year, numerous efforts are underway to implement the plan’s strategies and tactics. A key tactic focuses on “increasing labor force participation through workforce system enhancements to better support populations with barriers to employment.”


The NCWorks Commission, the state’s workforce development board, has led the way on this effort by showcasing examples of local innovations through its Spotlight on Local Workforce Innovations series. Featuring unique stories of collaboration and employer leadership in workforce development partnerships, the series highlights promising practices that can be replicated across North Carolina. A FinTech program guaranteeing a $55,000 a year salaried job, an apprenticeship targeting Native Americans in agriculture, an initiative promoting the participation of adults aged 50 and above in the workforce, and a program helping disconnected young people achieve workforce success are just a few of the many inspiring local innovations represented in the Spotlight series.


FinTech WIN


Tariq Bokhari and Pasha Maher started the Carolina Fintech Hub in late 2017 with the mission of fostering collaboration between the world’s leading financial services firms and innovative FinTech startups. With a unique combination of banks, FinTech startups, and talent, the Carolinas provide a rich ecosystem for companies and individuals looking to build, learn, or grow in the field. In 2019, the Carolina FinTech Hub launched the Workforce Investment Network (“WIN”) program, which offers paid professional development to underserved, motivated adults. Participants receive 12 weeks of technical training, 12 weeks of on-the-job training, “soft skills” development, mentoring and other services. Through this initiative, sponsor companies receive and onboard qualified talent while also making an impact on the community they serve.


The first three cohorts placed 113 participants in tech jobs around Charlotte. Each year, the program grows, with a national expansion goal. Every participant in the WIN program is guaranteed job placement with a starting salary of $55,000 annually with benefits. Since WIN’s inception, more sponsor companies have signed on (growing to more than 13) to provide funding and job placement for participants.


Native American Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Apprenticeship


Native American students and youth in North Carolina are extremely under-represented in agricultural careers, although agriculture is North Carolina’s number one industry, contributing $75 billion to the state’s economy and providing 17% of all jobs. Additionally, one in four Native Americans experience food insecurity, compared to one in eight of all Americans. This largely stems from a scarcity of jobs and food in areas with high populations of Native Americans. These factors prompted a recently launched initiative in North Carolina, the Native American Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems Apprenticeship. This program aims to promote youth involvement in agriculture, increase diversity and inclusion, and promote agricultural sciences as a viable career path.


The first cohort started in May of 2021. Apprentices were paid $12/hour for approximately 20 hours/week for one year. During this program, the apprentices were paired with experienced mentors from Lumbee-owned food and agricultural businesses. Participants received hands-on training and education in sustainable food production. Monthly professional development training related to food systems and farming work were completed as well as networking with other apprentices and food and farm businesses within the field of sustainable food production. Participants experienced a four-day farm tour across North Carolina and assisted Lumbee-owned businesses with supporting local food systems in Robeson County. Vital work experience was gained in food production, website assistance, social media, business, or logistics planning, depending on the applicant’s interest and business needs.


Robeson Community College President Melissa Singler explained the personal and community impact of the program: “Growing up in agriculture and having worked on the farm with my grandparents alongside a host of relatives and community members, I am delighted to see the investment of time, resources, and money towards building the next generation of agricultural leaders on native lands.”


Experienced Workforce Initiative (EWI)


Since 2017, partners in the Experienced Workforce Initiative (EWI) have reached out to adults aged 50 and older in Western North Carolina, particularly in the Asheville metro area. EWI aims to support and promote the engagement of older adults in both the volunteer and workforce continuum, from volunteer work to stipend-based training, part-time and full-time employment, and entrepreneurship.


EWI believes it is important to find employers who are committed to interviewing and hiring workers aged 50 or older. “Ageism” (prejudice or discrimination on the grounds of a person’s age) in the workforce continues to be very prevalent. According to a 2019 survey by AARP, approximately “three in five older workers have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace.” The EWI work group has developed several age-friendly events, including job fairs and the NCWorks Experienced Worker Talent Jam. Additionally, EWI has worked to educate experienced workers about hiring practices and help them develop job search skills for success through programs such as Back to Work 50+.


Project GAP


Funded by the Golden LEAF Foundation, Elizabeth City State University’s (ECSU) Project GAP is helping “disconnected” young adults, ages 18-24, prepare for workforce success through educational and supportive services (all at no charge). Participants can be women with dependent children, long-term unemployed, single parents, foster care participants, high school dropouts, court-referred individuals, or academically at-risk ECSU students. They take part in special workshops, explore careers, hone their communication skills, and connect with employers in the region.


The program seeks to ensure that people who complete Project GAP are gainfully employed and earn credentials within a two-year period. Golden LEAF is committed to growing the talent, knowledge, and skills of North Carolina’s workforce, especially in rural areas. ECSU is surrounded by communities served by Golden LEAF, with most of the school’s student population living and working in these areas. By supporting workforce training programs that lead to quality jobs, Golden LEAF is fulfilling its mission to increase economic opportunity in North Carolina’s rural and tobacco-dependent communities.


A program participant named J. Calvert recalled, “Project GAP was…a catalyst for my success. Over the last year, I’ve achieved so many things, lost 100 pounds, got a job, got my GED, and my driving license. And Project GAP helped me pursue another goal of mine, to get CPR certified. It helped me discover even more about myself and how I really wanted to pursue nursing for my future career.”


With great ideas like these emerging in local communities, North Carolina continues to innovate in the field of workforce development. For more information and details on these and other initiatives, visit NC Commerce: Spotlight on Local Workforce Innovations.