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CCCC assisting Champion Homes with innovative training plan

Click to enlarge,  Champion Homes is one of the largest homebuilders in North America, a company constructing affordable modular and mobile homes at a time when access to affordable housing is a real concern. Because of that growing market, Champion Homes in Lillington is hiring. Central Carolina Community College is assisting Champion Homes with an innovative training plan.

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Champion Homes is one of the largest homebuilders in North America, a company constructing affordable ... (more)

11.30.2020College & CommunityCollege General

LILLINGTON - You might think it cannot be hard to find employees to fill good, middle-class jobs, especially in this tough economic environment with high unemployment and companies restructuring in a global pandemic. But that's exactly the challenge Champion Homes is facing -- and why the company recently turned to Central Carolina Community College for help.

Champion Homes is one of the largest homebuilders in North America, a company constructing affordable modular and mobile homes at a time when access to affordable housing is a real concern. Because of that growing market, Champion Homes in Lillington is hiring. Not just a few people, says general manager Jim Johnson, but a lot. He's facing an urgent need for employees just to keep up with his current demand for the homes in the Southeastern United States.

"The current and foreseeable demand is clearly outweighed by our capacity to produce, so we're in an extreme growth mode here in Lillington," says Johnson. "I have an immediate need for 50 employees and have an empty plant sitting right next to me where I could put another 200 employees, if I could only get the workforce."

So what's making it so difficult to hire qualified employees? Johnson says it's an overall decline in young people gravitating toward manufacturing jobs. With a stronger emphasis on four-year college, many people have forgotten that there are other paths to economic success. In his case, Johnson says Champion offers a good middle-class wage with paid holidays, vacation, medical and 401(k) plans. Houses are manufactured in a safe, indoor environment.

And with the need for affordable housing to continue for the foreseeable future, Johnson says Champion's "value proposition offers a long-term rewarding career, not just a job."

But with fewer people prepared for this kind of work, it's hard to find employees. "What all of us in industry are facing is the challenge of staffing our manufacturing plants," Johnson says, taking a broader view of the economic landscape. "The traditional methodology of hanging a help-wanted shingle out in front and getting a lot of applicants just isn't working."

To solve that problem, Champion Homes joined forces with Central Carolina Community College to develop an innovative plan that combines resources across the college and beyond.

CCCC Industry Training Director Cathy Swindell says discussions began with the kind of typical customized training program community colleges design for local industry. But she quickly saw there was more the college could do to help Champion Homes, given the specific challenge the company was facing, and she saw how something more comprehensive could develop a new pool of expertise that would benefit the community as a whole.

Step One was to help interested workers quickly develop the broader skills needed to seize opportunity in the construction industry. To do that, CCCC Continuing Education worked with the National Center for Construction Education and Research to create CCCC's new Skilled Trades Academy, a short-term credentialing program that teaches general construction skills -- including core construction techniques, safety procedures, drawing interpretation and related topics. Swindell says this kind of training makes local graduates especially attractive to the entire construction industry, whether they end up working in manufacturing housing or somewhere else.

Then, CCCC developed ways for Champion Homes to sponsor, recruit and hire many of those newly trained workers -- and other already-skilled workers in the area -- as quickly as possible by drawing on its expertise in workforce development. And, finally, the college has finalized plans to provide customized training in the Lillington facility to help new employees specialize those broader construction skills to the specific kind of work required to produce manufactured housing in Lillington. That phase of the project will begin in coming months, as students emerge from the Skilled Trades Academy with their new construction credentials.

It's a truly collaborative arrangement. There's CCCC Continuing Education and CCCC Industry Services providing the training, before and after employees are hired. But the project also includes CCCC YouthBuild, an educational program providing free tuition and personal development opportunities for young people who have faced specific challenges to finishing high school and achieving their career goals. The Triangle South Workforce Development Board is also involved with recruiting and career counseling. And, of course, there's the National Center for Construction Education and Research that promotes standardized training for the construction industry and accredits credentialing program for more than 70 craft areas.

"This has become a lot bigger than when we started looking at the project," Swindell says. "But we like to take advantage of everything the college offers, like recruitment and job fairs, and then we saw a bigger opportunity for something like the Skilled Trades Academy.

"There are a lot of moving pieces."

It sounds good to Johnson and Champion Homes. They just need to fill those 50 jobs as quickly as possible before looking to the future and maybe adding even more. "When you're in our position, you have a lot of lines in the water and this option gets to the youth through educational avenues to let them know there are good jobs out there," he said. "Even if they believe they lack the skill sets now, CCCC and Champion in Lillington are willing to educate them until they feel comfortable with the manufacturing environment. And that's good for all of us."

To learn more about Central Carolina Community College and its programs, visit www.cccc.edu.