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Spirit of Rowan: Job training is a different landscape

By Rebecca Rider

For years, prospective employees fought over a small selection of jobs. But industry professionals are saying the tables have turned.

With more job openings than applicants, many employers have changed their hiring tactics, transforming the job field into something new and unexplored.

“I think employers are more interested in not so much as what you have done as in what you can do for them,” said Rod Kerr, director of Jobs for Life.

Jobs for Life is a ministry that helps people down on their luck build soft skills for the workplace and helps them figure out which field holds their passion. It’s been running out of First Baptist Church in Salisbury for about three years, Kerr said, and in that time the job market has “radically changed.”

“There were no jobs and a lot of people. Now, at some level, there are a lot of jobs and no people,” he said.

When it comes to potential employees, employers are looking for a different skill set.

“The No. 1 reason people get let go is attendance,” said Donna Ludwig, account manager of business services at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College.

Ludwig works with Stan Honeycutt at the North Carolina Manufacturing Institute, helping to retrain and re-employ local residents down on their luck. Honeycutt runs a strict ship as he teaches his students the ins and outs of the manufacturing field. Students are expected to be on time and are given timed breaks, and no cellphones are allowed.

“If they’ll show up every day, that’s the battle,” Honeycutt said.

In recent years, Ludwig said, employers are leaning more toward a focus on soft skills than technical ability. If an employee will show up to work every day on time and work as part of a team, much of the rest can be taught — at least for entry-level positions.

“We are training them on how to be good employees — so there’s a lot of soft skills,” Ludwig said.

Instead of asking about skills, experience or certification, employers spend a good chunk of interviews asking different questions.

“They ask, ‘Was he there every day?’ ‘Was he on time?’ and, ‘Would you hire him?” she said.

According to Honeycutt, the best manufacturing workers are the ones who are curious, who think critically and creatively about problems, who take initiative and who have a flair for repair.

In response to job market changes, job training programs are changing, as well. According to Kerr, Jobs for Life is undergoing a “reimagining” and “reinventing” to help better prepare its students for the current market.

The North Carolina Manufacturing Institute itself was launched in response to changing market demands, and it represents a rethinking of classical job training. There, company partners trade scholarships for reliable, competent workers.

The arrangement allows students to attend the institute free of charge and has employers foot the cost of tuition if a new employee and program graduate makes it to the 90-day mark. Most do, Honeycutt said.

Ludwig said some hiring processes have changed in recent years, including drug test requirements — and occasionally physical ability and behavioral tests.

But for job seekers who might be scratching their heads at an ever-fluctuating market, there are plenty of local opportunities for training and networking.

Those interested in the N.C. Manufacturing Institute should call 704-216-7205 or 704-216-3542 for more information. Those interested in Jobs for Life should contact or 704-633-0431 for more information.

Rowan-Cabarrus Community College also runs an “R3” center to help refocus, retrain and re-employ job seekers. For more information, contact 704-216-7201 or visit

Other job training opportunities include:

• The N.C. Works Career Center: 704-639-7529.

• The Goodwill Career Connections Center: 704-638-6434.

• Better Jobs for Better Lives: 704-216-7201.

View SPIRIT OF ROWAN magazine 



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