The NCDOT is offering a chance for people in underserved communities to attend highway construction trade academies. (WLOS staff photo)
There is a little-known advantage to western North Carolina's Interstate 26 construction in Buncombe and Henderson counties — free training for new workers.
Through the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), people in underserved communities are eligible to attend highway construction trade academies (HCTA). The idea is to bring long-term job opportunities to areas struggling with poverty.
Shelby Scales, the state agency's director of the Office of Civil Rights, described the program as one that gives an open door for people to get good jobs.
"Not just in North Carolina, but all across the country, we are building infrastructure, and people are looking for good, skilled workers, people who are willing to, you know, put the time into it," Scales said. "There are a lot of opportunities for growth in construction."
Participants will be provided training on specific jobs as well as how to conduct job searches. They also will receive supportive services such as needed emergency short-term housing, daycare and transportation assistance to help make sure potential workers succeed.
In a news release, Vanessa Powell, who administers the HCTA program for NCDOT's Office of Civil Rights, said, "Our goal is to target women, minorities and other disadvantaged populations, including veterans, the disabled and residents of our poorer Tier 1 counties where there's a need for such training and jobs. The course combines a mixture of safe classroom, virtual, hands-on and work-based learning formats."
North Carolina's HCTA program is a minimum four-week, full-time training course that initially will be hosted by community-based organizations statewide. It is being funded by the Federal Highway Administration.
The first two programs are being hosted at Passage Home in Southeast Raleigh and the Opportunities Industrialization Center in Rocky Mount. Three additional academies will be coming online shortly in James City, Fayetteville, Charlotte and Greenville. The class includes basic construction math, written and interpersonal skills, the OSHA-10 certification, and other more advanced skills such as flagger certification.
Plans call for five more HCTAs in Wilmington, Robeson County, the Triad cities, Asheville and Morganton. Each of these will be longer, eight-week programs.
As with all such HCTAs, the two western North Carolina sites will be in a major highway construction project area, in this case the I-26 enterprise in Asheville.
It is projected that a 60 percent workforce shortage, or 500,000 skilled highway construction workers, will exist over the next decade across the United States. The trend for North Carolina is similar, partly due to retirements of an aging industry labor force. A non-traditional labor supply is part of the answer for this essential sector.
Applications for the transportation department's HCTA program will be available at each site as they continue to open around the state.
For more information, visit https://www.ncdot.gov/about-us/board-offices/offices/civil-rights/Pages/on-the-job-training.aspx.
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