How One Community College is Making Partnerships with Business Work


Community colleges are nimble, responsive to shifting industry needs to support high-demand fields.

Vocational learning has evolved over the years. In the past, it referred to individuals learning particular skills in fields such as welding, plumbing and automotive services.

Today’s vocational training looks vastly different. Students are acquiring skills in advanced manufacturing, mechatronics, computer-integrated machining, and other highly technical fields of study. Classrooms have been replaced with employers’ manufacturing headquarters, and students are finding employment before they even graduate college. 

Leading this trend are the partnerships community colleges are forging with business and industry. Companies are seeking out community colleges for workplace learning solutions. Why? Because community colleges are nimble. They’re able to quickly respond to shifting industry needs and create degree and training programs that meet the needs of the marketplace, preparing individuals for occupations in high-demand fields.

Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) in Charlotte, N.C., has been successful in building these partnerships by meeting with potential employer partners to listen and understand their needs, and then making the best recommendation on how the college can assist them.

And the solutions vary. For some businesses, an apprenticeship program may be appropriate, while work-based learning or an internship may be a better fit for another organization. Regardless of the solution, this partnership allows us to address the two most common issues being experienced by today’s workforce – closing the skills gap (the gap between the skills today’s workers have and the skills that today’s companies need from its employees) and meeting a need for skilled workers.


Central CoOp, Groninger Apprentices
Groninger USA apprentices hard at work in the Apprenticeship Charlotte program.


In 2012, CPCC announced the launch of Apprenticeship Charlotte, a new career-training program that provides students with the opportunity to receive intensive, company-specific technical training while earning college credit. This model helps employers build and develop a talent pipeline from the ground up, giving students the hands-on training they need to excel in the workforce.

Since its launch more than six years ago, CPCC’s apprenticeship program has grown to eight employer partners and boasts 98 active apprentices working for a variety of employers, such as Siemens, groninger USA, Cummins, and others.

Work-based Learning/Co-ops

CPCC’s Work-based Learning program provides an alternative workforce development solution to apprenticeships. It’s called a co-op, which is a short-term, semester-based career exploration opportunity where students work with an employer in a position directly related to their field of study, receiving academic credit either as an elective or as a required class.

When an organization chooses to participate in CPCC’s Work-based Learning program, they gain access to the area’s top talent, trained CPCC students who are prepared to give the company the competitive edge it needs while they earn the college credit and practical experience necessary to enter today’s workforce.

Currently, CPCC’s Work-based Learning program boasts more than 250 students, almost 130 employers and 45 programs of study.


Internships are non-credit work experiences that allow students and recent graduates to gain exposure to a desired career field or to enhance their portfolio. Students work at the employer’s site for an extended period of time, working on projects related to their program of study.

Internships are probably the most recognized model because they not only enable students to build their related work experience, but they also fit well into many company’s recruiting strategies as they seek to fill their talent pipelines.

CPCC’s workplace learning programs serve the needs of its local business community, enabling the Charlotte region to reap the benefits of new capital investments and job creation, while raising the college’s profile as a valuable workforce development resource.