Marion, NC – Without a doubt, there’s no better time than now to be looking for a job in McDowell County and Western
North Carolina. Career opportunities are plentiful, and for those looking for the best jobs, best growth potential and
quick entry into the workforce, McDowell Technical Community College has engineered a trifecta for career success with
the college’s workforce development programs, tuition-free college, and enhanced support from our workforce
“What is even better,” said Stacy Buff, Dean of Career and Technical Education, “is that most of our work-based learning
and training programs offer our students an opportunity to earn an hourly paycheck for time that they spend with an
employer while learning their craft. This removes the sometimes significant financial barrier that has kept some people
from entering a new training program in the past. In each of these programs, students attend classes at the college for
part of the workweek and spend the remainder of the week with an employer.”
To market and recruit students to these programs and to support and guide them to success, the college and a
respected partner, Centro Unido Latino Americano (CULA), have both hired new employees to help with these goals.
Thomas Champ, who previously worked in McDowell Tech’s Career and College Readiness program, is the college’s new
Work-Based Learning Coordinator, and Miriam Juarez is the new Workforce Coordinator with Centro Unido.
Work-based learning components are currently available in degree programs such as Nursing, Emergency Medical
Science, Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Technology, Applied Engineering Technology, Welding,
Mechatronics and more. The college’s current thrust of efforts are now aimed at short-term training that requires only a
few months for an individual to earn marketable skills in high-demand careers.
While the college has leveraged a number of federal and state grants and private funds to offer tuition-free college to
incoming students, the increase in work-based learning programs has begun to accelerate, in large part, due to a
$1.498M federal Workforce Opportunities for Rural Communities (WORC) grant from the United States Department of
Labor. Both Juarez and Champ were hired to facilitate the WORC grant efforts in collaboration with the Foothills
Workforce Development Board and training partner, Isothermal Community College.
WORC grant participants may choose to participate in work-based learning opportunities, internships, apprenticeships
and job shadowing in their educational plan in healthcare, advanced manufacturing, and construction trades programs.
Participants will also work with WORC staff to co-enroll with the NCWorks Online system and receive support from a
WORC Caseworker employed by the Foothills Workforce Development Board to potentially become eligible for federal
WIOA support services and financial support.
“We want our students to learn, gain valuable experience and develop skills that will lead to more permanent skilled and
semi-skilled positions around the county and throughout the region,” said Buff. “This also helps fulfill our mission to be the
state’s job engine for businesses and industries. We are doing our best to create business and industry leaders, both
in management and skilled vocations.”
One of the newest entries to the work-based learning lineup is the college’s Construction Trades Academy. Chris Saxton,
a U.S. Army veteran with a degree in Carpentry who previously worked in bridge building with Ford Miller at Miller
Engineering, will lead the Construction Trades Academy. Saxton also has recent experience building the increasingly
popular “tiny houses” at a startup facility in Morganton.
In addition to classroom instruction, participants in the Construction Trades Academy, which begins February 21 st , will
work off-site building new housing units for low-income residents in McDowell and Rutherford and will earn an hourly
wage while they are doing so. Over time, they will also earn three nationally-recognized credentials to assist them in
future employment efforts.
Ms. Juarez, the new Workforce Coordinator at CULA, has developed a Spanish-language brochure to assist in recruiting
Hispanic and Latino students to the program and is cooperating with Thomas Champ and MTCC staff to recruit and
The college is also working with small businesses and other community partners to build-out an array of apprenticeships
and work-based learning programs, including McDowell County Schools, the McDowell Chamber of Commerce and the
Chamber’s member businesses. Buff, Dean of Career and Technical Education, and Champ are available to assist any
business or industry partner with an interest in initiating a work-based learning, apprenticeship or internship
opportunity with a curriculum or continuing education program.
Baxter Healthcare, Continental, and Morris Heating and Air are just a few of the businesses and industry leaders who
have accepted the apprenticeship challenge. Morris Heating & Cooling, for example, has five Heating, Air Conditioning
and Refrigeration Technology students who are completing apprenticeships at the company while studying in the
college’s HVAC program at night.
Similarly, McDowell County Public Schools, McDowell Tech and the McDowell Pipeline Committee are working to build
stronger relationships with high school students to identify strengths and interests earlier in a student’s high school
career and to steer them into appropriate vocational tracks and pre-apprenticeships. Ultimately, each partner shares the
same goal—helping students fine-tune their interests, make wise career decisions and be successful at what they choose
to do to earn a living over a lifetime.
“With the help of our partners, we are creating one of the most robust, short-term career training initiatives this
community has ever seen,” said Dr. Brian S. Merritt, MTCC President. “The combination of strong partners providing a
network of support for our students, tuition-free college, and quality workforce training programs truly creates a trifecta
for jobseekers to work towards careers with family-sustaining wages and the chance to increase their lifetime earnings.”
To learn more about work-based learning programs or to enroll in the Construction Trades Academy, Thomas Champ at
659-0454 or Miriam Juarez at 652-0727 or 828-803-8015 (c).