CCCC addresses skills gap with new robotics course

Aimed towards local employers, students will train on industrial robots


Chatham County's labor force participation rates have lagged behind national rates since the onset of the pandemic, according to data from the Federal Reserve and American Community Survey. Siler City Town Manager Hank Raper suggests that these low rates indicate a mismatch between job vacancies and the education and skills of potential workers.

"Many of those people not participating in the labor force, their education and job skills don’t align with [job] vacancies,” Raper said. “Students coming out of high school have limited opportunities to obtain the skills needed for these jobs, so courses that help bridge that gap are critically needed at this time.”

In response, Central Carolina Community College (CCCC) recently announced a new industrial robotics technician course. This addition is the latest in a series of efforts to address the skills gap, according to Patricia Anderson, CCCC’s executive director of industry services.

The course, which can be completed in either 16 or 40 hours, uses a Swedish brand industrial robot to teach students safe robot operation, troubleshooting, programming, and maintenance. Bharat Forge in neighboring Lee County is already training its employees through CCCC’s course, and Anderson said VinFast, which will have 100 of the same robots at its Moncure location, plans to do the same.

Approximately 1,800 acres are available between the two Chatham County megasites, according to Chatham County Economic Development Corporation President Michael Smith. These vacant acres could host tenants in need of this training. Anderson also noted that Wolfspeed in Siler City and Toyota in neighboring Randolph County may require their employees to take the course.

The course will not only help close the county’s skills gap but also enable companies to produce at maximum capacity as their robots won't need to be used for training.

At the high school level, there's an increased emphasis on career and technical education (CTE) courses, according to Northwood High School Career and College Advisor Timarie Franco. This focus helps guide students towards classes that equip them with skills increasingly in demand by local employers, including large manufacturers like Wolfspeed, VinFast, and Toyota.

Franco said part of the increased emphasis on CTE courses involves CCCC department heads visiting CTE classes at local high schools to discuss opportunities in their respective CTE fields. The community college also hosts an applied technologies day, where students can learn more about CTE-related jobs and course offerings.

According to recent Federal Reserve data, Chatham County’s labor force participation rate is 58%, five percent below the 63% national rate.

While CCCC’s robotics course won't solve the problem alone, the community college is dedicated to providing solutions and bridging the skills gap in the county.

“The community college has been a wonderful partner to Chatham County,” Raper said. “I think they’ve been on the cutting edge of trying to discover the most innovative [and] up-to-date technology when it comes to training our labor pool and bridging that gap.”