Durham Tech continues to build education-to-career pathways

Jun. 07, 2014 @ 06:32 AM

While it remains a necessary first step, a high school diploma no longer serves as the credential that assures Durham’s youth of a self-sustaining job that pays a living wage. Entry into today’s workforce requires a skill set that includes job-specific aptitudes along with the ability to communicate effectively, work both independently and in teams, and a general understanding of critical workplace behaviors—the so-called “soft skills.” At Durham Technical Community College, we recognize the best way to provide our graduates with this combination of skills is through work-based learning opportunities.

As a result of this recognition, Durham Tech has been working with Durham Public Schools, local businesses and industries, and other institutions in the community to develop more comprehensive educational experiences with our students by expanding opportunities for internships, cooperative work experiences, clinical practice and other ways to take advantage of the learning opportunities in the workplace.

In 2011, Durham voters approved a local quarter-cent sales tax increase to support local education. Durham Tech has used a portion of our share of these funds to vastly expand our work-study program. In the past two years, our work-study opportunities on campus have more than quadrupled, enabling over 200 Durham residents to receive financial aid for enrolling at Durham Tech while gaining invaluable work experience they can use upon graduation.

Last December, Durham Tech renewed our Back-to-Work Program, thanks to a grant from the State Board of Community Colleges. This program provides short-term, competency-based skills training for unemployed and underemployed high school graduates in Durham and Orange counties. Grant-funded students earn a Certified Production Technician credential or a BioWork credential in as little as six months, and several local manufacturers were ready to interview participants upon completion of their credentials.

Recently, working in partnership with Durham Tech, Durham Public Schools received a grant from the Education and Workforce Innovations Fund administered by the Office of the Governor of North Carolina. Durham Tech will use these funds to expand our presence in Southern School of Engineering to facilitate its students’ transition from high school to community college to the workplace.

Earlier this academic year, Durham Tech received a $100,000 grant from Wells Fargo to expand internship and cooperative work opportunities for students in both Durham and Orange counties. In less than six months, 18 students have participated in work-based learning opportunities supported by Wells Fargo; 15 students in Durham Tech’s 2014 graduating class are now in the workforce as a result. This grant, along with support from such other Durham businesses as Bank of America and Duke Energy, will allow us to continue to expand work-based learning opportunities to complement traditional on-campus educational efforts.

Finally, just this past week, Longfellow Partners announced a $100,000 grant to Durham Tech to create the STEMFellows program for low-income, minority students who want to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. We will use these funds to provide academic and career counseling and support for eligible students enrolled in our Health Technologies programs. This program is in partnership with the Duke University Talent Identification Program (TIP) and the Durham Office of Economic and Workforce Development.

For the past 12 months, I have had the privilege of serving on the Made in Durham Task Force, a group of business and community leaders chaired by Dr. Victor Dzau, president and CEO of Duke University Health System. This group has focused on the simple and straightforward idea that all of Durham’s residents should be qualified to contribute to, participate in and benefit from our community’s economic, cultural and social prosperity. We recognize that aligning the many education, training and workforce development efforts and systems in our community is essential to attaining that goal. 

We at Durham Tech recognize our responsibility in this task. We also believe work-based learning opportunities are an increasingly important part of our students’ educational experiences. We appreciate the partnerships with local businesses and industries, our public schools and our sister institutions in providing these opportunities. We look forward to working with these and other partners to make sure Durham’s youth are fully prepared for success in the workplace and can contribute to and build upon Durham’s economic vitality in the future.

William Ingram is president of Durham Technical Community College.