COLUMBUS COUNTY, NC (WECT) - Governor Roy Cooper visited Southeastern Community College Tuesday to discuss his NC Job Ready Program, emphasizing work-based learning and skills people need for the workforce.
It was the governor, however, who learned from students and employers in Columbus County.
Cooper visited the college because it has an internship program that pairs students with local businesses for a semester to get exactly what the governor's program is focused on: work-based learning.
"It's invaluable as far as getting out there and doing what you're, or at least something similar to what you're going to be doing full time, so that's the type of thing we're trying to provide," Southeastern Community College President Anthony Clarke said.
According to Cooper, the internship program caught his eye.
"These places work with the community colleges to create these internships so they can get people to help them out and hopefully groom good employees for the future," Cooper said. "The interns can get on the job training and experience as well as get the education that they need. It's just a mutually beneficial relationship here."
During a roundtable discussion, the governor spoke with school leaders, interns, and companies in the internship program about how it works.
Employers, including National Spinning from Whiteville and Top Tobacco in Lake Waccamaw, said they have the jobs, but need help attracting and retaining skilled workers.
"In this workforce, it lets you get a real world situation better than the classroom could teach you and you get out there and see what actually happens," said Ronnie Godwin, a student intern at Top Tobacco. "The classroom, it teaches you a lot, but it's not how it actually is."
Cooper said one of his goals is to encourage people to stay and work where they grew up and were educated. Godwin said he hopes to work in Columbus County when he graduates.
"We know that in order to get people good paying jobs that businesses have to tell us what they need from their employees, what skills and education and what they need," Cooper said. "We're in a race with innovation and even in our rural areas. The kinds of jobs that are out there are changing dramatically because of the advancements in technology and innovation, so our community colleges are going to be a big hub for our employees."
According to employers and school leaders, the internship program also helps the surrounding area.
"It will grow the county," said Richard Hopkins, an engineer at Top Tobacco. "It will invite businesses that come for economic development. They'll see that it's attractive, that there are people here that can do the job."
"It's one of those things where success begets success, and Columbus County has a challenging environment economically, so any type of success that we can do to kind of help keep moving forward, that's what we're here for and we're happy to do it," Clarke said.
According to Clarke, the internships aren't mandatory for students. There are internship options with technology and heating, ventilation and air conditioning companies in Columbus County, and the school is expanding into business and welding internships.