State Board of Community Colleges announces winners of inaugural Workforce Development Pinnacle Awards

The North Carolina State Board of Community Colleges announces winners of the inaugural Workforce Development Pinnacle Awards. These awards recognize exemplary employers, businesses or industry groups that have demonstrated extraordinary engagement and firm commitment to the education and professional development of its employees and/or to the development of North Carolina’s workforce through its partnership efforts with one or more of the 58 community colleges in North Carolina. 
It is imperative that we recognize employers who have taken ownership for student success,” said Tom Looney, Chairman of the Board. “In addition, we recognize the colleges who work with them and each other in a collaborative fashion. Today, we are seeing innovation at an accelerated rate that must be recognized, celebrated, and replicated across the state. These partnerships will ensure North Carolina remains the number one state to do business.” 
The 2024 Pinnacle Award winners are: 

  • Apprenticeship Champion: Northern Regional Hospital with Surry Community College 
  • Apprenticeship Champion: Smithfield Foods with Wayne Community College 
  • Innovative Leadership Award: Cape Fear Valley Health System with Bladen Community College, Fayetteville Technical Community College, Sandhills Community College, and Central Carolina Community College 
  • Business of the Year >500 Employees: Lilly with Durham Tech and Wake Tech
  • Business of the Year <500 Employees: Parker Offshore with Carteret Community College 

The Apprenticeship Champion award recipients demonstrated commitment to providing structured and meaningful apprenticeship experiences with creative approaches that go beyond traditional roles and responsibilities.  

northern regional hospital logoApprenticeship Champion: Northern Regional Hospital with Surry Community College 

Northern Regional Hospital and Surry Community College partnered to address the nursing shortage in rural Surry and Yadkin Counties – increasing access to healthcare by increasing the number of registered nurses employed by the hospital.  

“Eighty-five percent of our workforce, and we employ 1,000 caregivers, were born and raised within 25 miles of Mount Airy,” said Chris Lumsden, President and CEO of Northern Regional Hospital. “When you understand these numbers, it’s really important to recognize how critical it is to keep as many young people here in our community to be educated, pursue a career, and to live and raise a family.” 

Carrie McKeaver was an apprentice in the program and secured full-time employment at the hospital immediately after graduating. Just a few months later, she was promoted to charge nurse. 

“Once I got into the nursing program at Surry, I transitioned to become a registered apprentice and through that program they provided assistance to help pay for your schooling and working PRN at the hospital. I was getting to work alongside nurses and gain valuable experience,” McKeaver said.  

The presenting sponsor for this award is Randolph Community College. 

smithfield foods logoApprenticeship Champion: Smithfield Foods with Wayne Community College 

Smithfield Foods and Wayne Community College partnered to address an aging workforce among maintenance technicians. They realized that over the next 10 years, nearly 60% of their technical staff would likely retire. They also realized that as technology advanced, they would need to equip their employees with new and refined skills.  
“We decided to create an apprentice program and after a lot of searching, we found a home with Wayne Community College and they have just been phenomenal,” said Clarence Scott, Talent Development Training Specialist at Smithfield Foods. “They were willing to change how they do things and be forward thinking and open their minds to our ideas.” 

The College worked with Smithfield to develop a customized apprenticeship model that would revolutionize Smithfield’s view of training and would set the company and their employees on a trajectory to workforce success. Apprentices went to class one day each week and worked full-time at Smithfield the other days. 

This model is being utilized by seven other community colleges in six states to train over 70 other apprentices working at 23 Smithfield facilities.

“Apprenticeships truly do change lives because it gives someone an opportunity to do something they never thought they’d be able to do,” said Kristie Sauls, Executive Director of Apprenticeships and Career Development at Wayne Community College.  
Scott Hollman has been an apprentice in the program since August 2022. 
“Since taking the leap down this path, I have gained confidence in my understanding of the maintenance profession and my academic abilities,” Holloman said. “I have a fantastic support system at Wayne Community College that fights for me every day and serves as a wonderful environment that allows me to work full-time around my class schedule.” 
The presenting sponsor for this award is Randolph Community College.

Innovative Leadership Award

Cape Fear Valley Health System partners with Bladen, Sandhills, Central Carolina, and Fayetteville Technical Community College to support the growth of high-demand, high-wage health and healthcare support programs.  

Cape Fear provides a variety supports to the colleges, ranging from a loan assistance program to simulation lab equipment and clinical settings for patient care experience. 

“When I think about what this award means, I think it talks about the integration between two organizations doing the best they can to serve their communities,” “We don’t think of the community colleges as separate entities. We’re all on the same team trying to better our communities and help students learn and aspire to their new careers,” said Mike Nagowski, CEO of Cape Fear Valley Health System. “When we asked them to increase their class size so we meet the ever growing need we had at the bedside, they jumped in. I hope other organizations see what we’re doing and apply the same partnership principles.”  

CFVHS funds a simulation lab nursing position and equipment at Bladen Community College, which allows the college to offer innovative and progressive simulations.  

“The simulation lab gives our students an opportunity to really become great at what they’re doing before working on real people,” said Dr. Amanda Lee, President of Bladen Community College. “It’s such a wonderful partnership. Cape Fear has been generous to our college, reached out to our students, and supported our faculty. The partnership allows us to produce a graduate of phenomenal quality.” 

Nagowski said it is rewarding to play a role in the lives of students.  

“We’re allowing the students to pursue their career aspirations and come out of this with an opportunity to have a job that’s really well compensation and fully benefited,” he said. “We’re more than just someone who hires graduates from the colleges. We’re really integrated into the education. When we look to grow and expand the needs of our workforce, it is just natural to reach out to the community colleges.” 

The presenting sponsor for this award is NC Chamber

Business of the Year >500 Employees 

In late 2020, Lilly announced their plan to invest nearly $500 million in a new manufacturing center in Research Triangle Park. Lilly also announced that it would be hiring 500 employees for the facility with an average wage of $73,000. Concurrently, development staff at Wake Tech began conversations with Lilly executives about developing working training and education to prepare the talent pipeline that would be essential for success. 

“Lilly has always believed that we’re not just a company in the area, we’re supposed to be your neighbor, so by working with the community colleges, we’re not only getting the people we need, we’re getting to help the community,” said Joe Owen, Senior Director of Human Resources at Lilly RTP. “Durham Tech and Wake Tech both have different programs that will benefit anyone that wants to learn biotechnology, and especially in pharmaceutical manufacturing.” 

Lilly donated $1.1 million to Wake Tech to support the biotechnology programs of both Wake Tech and Durham Tech. This donation made it possible to launch an innovative workforce collaboration called RTP Bio, which includes articulation agreements between the two institutions to ensure the smooth transfer of course credits as well as resources for equipment, training, and apprenticeship programs that the colleges share.   

“The Lilly Science and Technology Center is here on the Wake Tech RTP campus because they recognized the need and the value and the community contribution of contributing to a talent pipeline,” said Dr. Scott Ralls, president of Wake Tech.   

Lilly’s support made it possible for the two institutions to provide focused, customized training programs and prepare the talent pipeline that biotech companies can rely on. 
“This is really a great recognition of Eli Lilly. It was recognizing what Lilly did to support what the Durham Tech’s and the Wake Tech’s ought to be doing to help build the talent pipeline, but that kind of industry engagement is critical to helping us make it happen,” said J.B. Buxton, president of Durham Tech. 
The presenting sponsor for this award is the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina.

Business of the Year <500 Employees 

In 2021, Parker Offshore and Carteret Community College partnered so the College could provide customized training to Parker employees. Since then, Carteret has offered 26 classes where 118 unduplicated employees participated. 

“Carteret’s partnership with Parker Offshore is really a model partnership between a college and industry partner,” said Dr. Tracy Mancini, president of Carteret Community College. “They have taken full advantage of the customized training that we can offer them.” 

The training helped Parker improve staff retention and achieve their goal of improving production outcomes and reducing product and labor costs. According to Sheila Glazewski, Vice President of Parker Offshore, they were able to grow their workforce by 46%. 

“They really tailor their programs to what manufacturers in the area need,” said Phillip Guthrie, Director of Product Development at Parker Offshore.  

Parker also works with Career and Technical Education students at the College by offering tours, hands-on experience and internships at their facility.  

The presenting sponsor for this award is the Golden LEAF Foundation.   

The awards will be presented during the 2024 North Carolina Community Colleges Awards Dinner and Celebration on April 17th at the Umstead Hotel in Cary. Visit the Awards Dinner and Celebration event website for tickets, sponsorship opportunities, and to read about the award winners. 

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