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By Will Doran July 3, 2017

North Carolina's 2017 budget creates new apprenticeship programs

State legislators rejected much of what Gov. Roy Cooper wanted when they passed a budget for the next two years, over his veto.

Omissions in the budget caused us to downgrade some of Cooper's campaign promises to a Coop-O-Meter rating of Stalled – like a promise to reinstate tax credits for child care costs, for instance.

But North Carolina's Democratic governor did get some of what he had asked for from the state's Republican-led General Assembly. Some of his wins include campaign promises we're tracking here and here.

Another promise from Cooper involved apprenticeship programs.

The North Carolina economy is facing a skills gap in some rural areas where low-skill manufacturing jobs, such as those in the textiles industry, have been replaced by high-skill manufacturing jobs that require workers to be able to weld, work with robots or call upon other specialized training.

Many factories have open jobs they just can't fill – even in places with high unemployment rates. And a News & Observer report last fall found that the state's labor force participation rate (the number of people either working or looking for work) was at one of its lowest points ever.

Cooper acknowledged the problem.

"I will increase the number of apprenticeship programs in high-need industry areas, like construction trades and advanced manufacturing," Cooper said during his campaign for governor.

And what does he have to show for that? In the new budget, there's quite a lot. 

After all, it's not a partisan political idea that schools should train children to be productive members of society. And due to the growing awareness of the state's skills gap – particularly in more rural areas – the budget contains a number of programs designed to expand apprenticeships and similar opportunities for teenagers who might not want, or be able, to go to college.

Some new programs will touch every corner of the state, like a requirement that every public school district must offer students at least two apprenticeships or internships in their own central offices "related to career and technical education." 

School districts have already been "encouraged" by state law to work with local businesses to create apprenticeship programs. (Several schools, for example, have job training partnerships with Caterpillar factories in their communities.) Now, the new budget also requires schools to form advisory councils that include local business leaders. Those councils will help identify industries where employers need good workers, and set up apprenticeship programs for them.

The budget also creates a program called ApprenticeshipNC. It will coordinate efforts to help people 16 and older find work as apprentices – where they'll start working full-time, getting paid while receiving both on-the-job and in-the-classroom training.

Other programs in the budget are more specifically targeted, like the creation of the Manufacturing Solutions Center at Catawba Valley Community College.

Cooper promised to increase the number of apprenticeships available to North Carolina's young people in crucial industries. Programs the state created last month may not do that immediately, but they could bolster the work some communities have already begun.

We rate this promise In The Works.

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