Iredell County’s economic future was a topic of discussion featuring U.S. Rep. Ted Budd .
Budd was joined by CEO of the Iredell County Economic Development Corp. Jennifer Bosser, Vice President of Denso Manufacturing John Brown and Iredell-Statesville Schools Superintendent Brady Johnson at the Rotary Auditorium at Mitchell Community College,
Advanced manufacturing was the primary topic of discussion, and what dominated the talk is how communication and education impact the way manufacturing jobs are filled.
“Now our economy is growing,” Budd said. “But we know that it could grow even more if we had a supply of (skilled workers) in our workforce.”
Budd outlined several policies he’s working on in Congress that provide more support for Career and Technical Education, like expanding Pell grants for students, offering tax credits for businesses willing to offer educational programs and tracking the success of CTE programs.
“The rubber really hits the road right here in places like Mitchell, and other community colleges,” Budd stated.
On addressing career choice from the classroom, Johnson mentioned part of that is changing the perception of manufacturing jobs from the idea that those involve dirty, low paying and dead-end work.
“We are not doing as good a job as we should in helping parents know that when we encourage your child to consider a job in advanced manufacturing, the same as other highly skilled technical based careers, we’re not slamming your child,” he said. “We’re not downgrading your child.”
Johnson acknowledged that there’s nothing wrong with a student who wants to go to college and earn a four-year degree, but that schools need to do a better job of telling parents about other options for their children.
Brown added that lack of communication extends to the business side as well.
“Somewhere there’s a gap between us and the college to understand how to get those people out on our production floor,” he said.
He also said Denso is working with Mitchell to get more students from the classroom to that factory floor.
One issue Bosser hit on is that the county would likely benefit from a business council, so businesses could communicate their needs and ideas for workforce development. She also said talent is what draws industry.
“We really need to understand what you have and how to capitalize on it,” she said. “And what I’ve learned in Iredell County is that people like to work with their hands.”
While the panel was taking questions, James Mallory, chairman of the Iredell County Board of Commissioners, said many businesses will have to act as petri dishes for educating workers, since schools don’t have the funding to purchase and teach on equipment that will actually be used in specific career fields.
He also said workforce development and education seem to be joined at the hip.
Budd said he sees his job as a way to remove obstacles for his constituents, and that he would assist in getting people, starting even as young as middle school age, the opportunity to realize the potential of CTE education.