Skip to main content

WNC Business

Workforce training programs help WNC build business

Jul 20, 2023 12:12PM ● By Randee Brown

Asheville-Buncombe Technical College’s Director of Economic and Workforce Development Kevin Kimrey said the college’s workforce training programs play a role in recruiting companies to Western North Carolina by connecting with businesses and industries in a variety of ways.

A-B Tech’s Advanced Manufacturing Center is a division of continuing education and specific workforce training programs that don’t provide a degree, but instead provide students with skills that are directly applicable to their job.

Kimrey said there are two main components of this division — open enrollment and customized training programs. Open enrollment means that anyone can sign up for classes such as Fundamentals of Machining or Industrial Maintenance that help students develop a mechanical aptitude. Customized training programs are a direct connection to industries in the area offering training to an incumbent workforce.

“Customized training programs place people right into the workforce,” Kimrey said. “Our program builds programs that are funded by the state and free to companies, and I was told this is part of the deciding factor for businesses coming to the area. It’s because they know we have the ability to train their workforce.”

There are currently customized training programs for 10 local businesses including Arcadia Beverage Company, BorgWarner, and Pratt & Whitney, according to Kimrey. Programs like these are available statewide at all 58 community colleges, and A-B Tech has always been prolific in that program. He said though it is the ninth-largest community college in the state, the key metrics of the program have the school tracking right behind Wake Technical Community College, the largest in the state.

Manufacturing companies work with A-B Tech to develop these educational programs when they are adding to their workforce, adding a new product to manufacture, or working to increase their productivity, according to Kimrey. They either reach out directly to the college or through the state, then Kimrey and his team perform an in-depth analysis and build the project’s training plan.

“I always ask what’s keeping them up at night,” Kimrey said. “It could be quality problems in their process or a need for professional and leadership development for new supervisor training or specific safety concerns. We then build the project training plan, and we are constantly in touch with the company with status update meetings.”

While A-B Tech’s customized training programs help prepare students to directly enter the workforce, the program’s equipment may not be exactly the same as the company’s. Specific manufacturing equipment may be extremely large and some processes are proprietary Kimrey said in general, the programs determine what the company’s processes are and how they are making what they are making, and the program sets up a similar process with similar equipment to teach students the fundamentals. 

An average of about 1,000 students per year move through programs like these directly into the workforce from A-B Tech, according to Kimrey. They are busier than ever before, and there will be about 1,500 students within these programs this year, some of whom are already in the workforce. 

While the majority of A-B Tech’s students are local, between 10% and 15% of the student population is coming from outside of the region. “Announcements like Pratt & Whitney’s arrival to the area heightens that interest,” he said.

Pratt & Whitney is one company that has a Pre-Hire program with the college, according to Kimrey. People can apply with Pratt & Whitney, and upon a screening, applicants are sent to A-B Tech for assessments and training. Students may get a conditional offer of employment, then after 80 hours of training, they are able to officially enter the workforce.

Kimrey said the types of projects created by the Advanced Manufacturing Center at A-B Tech are very cyclical. “Things that were very popular may cycle out in two or three years,” he said. “There are continuous improvements in things like leadership, professional development, and safety, and technology changes every day. It’s advanced a lot since I started this work 10 years ago.”

One trend Kimrey is noticing is more companies investing in machinery to automate their processes. “This is still creating jobs because you have to have people programming all these robots,” he said. “Companies are also moving toward each of their operations being completely networked and connected, and are working on how to have people trained for that.”

Kimrey is also noticing a “global A-B Tech notion” of figuring out how to move more people directly into industries. “There are so many things that we do,” he said. “From skilled trades to healthcare to technology and manufacturing, we are doing a good service to train people to get them right into the workforce or starting at a community college for a four-year or higher degree.”

Learn more about the Advanced Manufacturing Center and A-B Tech’s workforce training programs at