University Economic Development Association


Award Category: Talent Development
Project Site: Operation Reentry North Carolina
Submitted By: East Carolina University
Contact: Ruthann Cage, 252.737.1343

Case Study


As part of Operation Reentry North Carolina, East Carolina University, Pitt Community College, the City of Greenville and local manufacturers collaborate to provide unemployed and exiting veterans a two-week residential training course entitled Tools for Advanced Manufacturing for Veterans. The course addresses the needs of both veterans entering the civilian workforce and of local manufacturers seeking technically-skilled, leadership-oriented workers.

Participants may earn two national credentials: Lean/6 Sigma white belt from ECU and an OSHA 30 card from OSHA.  Classes are held at the university, community college, city hall and local manufacturing facilities.  The goal of this targeted training is to capitalize on veteran knowledge experience, position them to contribute at local firms, and facilitate their successful reintegration.

Throughout the program, participants use the ACT WorkKeys assessment for career counseling; access on-line classes that offer soft and core skill development; interact with counselors to explore options for skill development or additional formal education; and receive training in innovation. The program measures its success by credentialing and engaging veterans with local manufacturing firms or in further education, and by assessing both employee and employer satisfaction.

Local firms host classes, sponsor lunches, and assist in “speed interviews” to introduce companies and prospective employees. The City of Greenville provides recreation passes for the veterans and their families and secures lodging for the veterans and their families. Registration costs are supported by ECU’s Champions of Freedom Fund.  While veterans prepare to begin civilian careers, their families are introduced to Greenville and its diverse opportunities and services.


ECU and Operation Reentry North Carolina (ORNC)
As a national doctoral research university within the nation’s third densest military corridor, East Carolina University seeks to serve as a national model for public service and regional transformation. Leveraging its historical strengths in distance education, health care, research and outreach, ECU pursues the goal of making North Carolina the premier military friendly state and thus maximizing the economic potential of the state’s military/defense cluster by enhancing the retention of separating servicemembers/veterans in the North Carolina workforce.

Critical to these efforts, ECU’s Office of Innovation and Economic Development (OIED) coordinates the Department of Defense (DoD) funded Operation Reentry North Carolina (ORNC) program. With this funding, ORNC operates as a national research support organization conducting military-relevant research under a 5-year cooperative agreement from the Telemedicine & Advanced Technology Research Center and U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command (TATRC/USAMRMC). Through other funding sources, ORNC translates its research findings into valued services. In both cases, ORNC develops unique partnerships to address the resilience, rehabilitation and reintegration concerns of veterans, their families and the DoD, Veterans Administration and civilian health providers who care for them.  ORNC’s mission is to mobilize and organize the expertise of civilian education, industry, government and community partners to address critical reintegration gaps and together build a community-based model of veteran and family wellness and reintegration.

Strong, employed, healthy, educated, resilient veterans and families result in better civilian reintegration outcomes; and educating and offering service member’s greater opportunities to seek post service employment will promote successful transitions. For veterans, the critical economic reintegration gap remains employment opportunities, adequate to enable them to support their families and find purpose and relevance in their new civilian lives. Conversely, the critical economic gap for many advanced manufacturing companies remains finding sufficient technology-savvy, leadership-oriented, highly-motived employees seeking to live and work in eastern North Carolina. Successfully preparing and empowering servicemembers/veterans to transfer their skills, knowledge and abilities from the military to advanced manufacturing firms is the best way to eliminate both these gaps and capitalize on this once-in-a-generation opportunity to engage, employ and retain this valuable human capital in eastern North Carolina.

To this end, ORNC mobilizes ECU Champions of Freedom Fund, ECU’s OIED, Pitt Community College, the City of Greenville and their advanced manufacturing partners to deliver “Tools for Advanced Manufacturing for Veterans,” a two-week, highly-affordable, proven, workforce program that includes innovation training, entrepreneur and small business support, and culminates in three nationally recognized workforce certifications: 1) Career Readiness with ACT WorkKeys, 2) LEAN/Six Sigma White Belt, and 3) OSHA 30. Participants interview with and receive feedback from existing manufacturing partners: ASMO-NA, Attends Healthcare Products, DSM, Mestek Inc., NAACO Materials Handling Group, PCS Phosphate, and Roberts Company. Importantly, participants are also supported through ORNC’s broad array of reintegration and vocation services to help ensure their successful transition to civilian life.

Veteran reintegration

Each year, the military separates between 240,000 and 360,000 service members. Looking ahead through the drawdown following the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military plans to separate a million service members over the next several years, many of these will be exiting from bases in eastern North Carolina. For example, the servicemember transition program at Fort Bragg, known as the Army Career and Alumni Program, currently separates approximately 1,000 services members each month. A veteran’s post service reintegration has been cited as one of the main stressors a service member and their family will experience.  Strong, employed, healthy, educated, resilient veterans and families result in better civilian reintegration outcomes; and educating and offering servicemembers/veterans greater opportunities to seek post service employment will promote a successful transition. Successfully transitioning servicemembers/veterans into current regional employment opportunities strengthens local manufacturers and builds stronger, more productive and more vibrant communities.


Tools for Advanced Manufacturing for Veterans – Pilot Program

To address the preparation of separating/retiring servicemembers and veterans for civilian careers in advanced manufacturing, to retain their talent and experience in the state, and to supply the hiring needs of manufacturers in eastern North Carolina with previously untapped talent, East Carolina University (ECU), Pitt Community College (PCC), the City of Greenville and their current industry partners, piloted a two-week training course, “Tools for Advanced Manufacturing for Veterans” (Tools for Advanced Manufacturing Program), in July, 2013 and ran for 13 days.   The program benefited servicemembers and veterans immediately by providing

  • Hands-on opportunities to experience advanced manufacturing techniques including CAD-based design, hydraulics, robotics, fabrication, and welding;
  • Rapid, affordable, modular and stackable workforce credentials/certificates including Career Readiness with ACT WorkKeys, OSHA 30, and LEAN/Six Sigma White Belt;
  • Direct engagement with local employers seeking screened and credentialed candidates for immediate employment;
  • Work-based learning experiences including plant inspections, hazard identification and safety planning, and presentations of corrective action plans;
  • Access to the supporting reintegration services of Operation Reentry NC;
  • Resume development and career counseling; and,
  • Additional training in Design Thinking and innovation to improve creative thinking processes; to design actual products and solutions that are desirable, feasible and affordable; and to develop detailed action/communication plans to produce products and implement solutions.

Longer term, program graduates are well positioned to develop career objectives informed by the requirements of local employers and pursue life-long learning opportunities to achieve these goals.

Roles and Collaborations

PCC and ECU instructors delivered the educational content and hands-on training experiences, while local firms committed time and resources such as venues and refreshments, OSHA site inspection opportunities, as well as human resource professionals. These partners and the City of Greenville provided all needed training/professional venues and even access to family recreational facilities. Registration costs for all participants and lodging assistance for some out-of-town participants were supported by ECU’s Champions of Freedom Fund, a privately funded philanthropic fund.


Our pilot cohort consisted of 14 participants: 6 active duty or newly separated/retired servicemembers and 9 veterans ranging in years of service and spanning the Vietnam to Gulf War eras. Two participants were from Marine Corps Air Station-Cherry Point and two from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. As such, this cohort was representative of the overall servicemember/veteran population in eastern NC, and specifically southeastern North Carolina.

Six of these candidates were evaluated to be highly qualified for employment, 6 moderately qualified, and 3 less qualified with documented histories of long-term under- and/or unemployment. Testing results (Figure 2) from this pilot indicate that newly separating/retiring servicemembers/veterans perform better than average on workforce assessments, such as Career Readiness ACT WorkKeys, and interview results demonstrate stronger than average interviewing skills as assessed by local

In conjunction with the Tools for Advanced Manufacturing program pilot, briefings were conducted with the servicemember transition assistance programs at Fort Bragg and Seymour Johnson. These programs now include information on Tools for Advanced Manufacturing for Veterans and make direct referrals to the Tools for Advanced Manufacturing program. Other avenues were utilized to raise awareness at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point and Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. As a result, 39 transitioning servicemembers are currently awaiting the next planned Tools for Advanced Manufacturing program targeted for October/November 2013 to be held again in Greenville, NC. Increasing requests by servicemembers/veterans for the Tools for Advanced Manufacturing program demonstrates the need to expand the program’s capacity.  Interviews with manufacturers who participated in the Pitt County pilot also reveals their need for a continued supply of highly-trained, leadership-oriented advanced manufacturing professionals. Thus, increasing referrals from transition programs, combined with increasing demand by servicemembers/veterans and employers, necessitate establishment of additional partnerships and sites in southeastern NC counties proximate to US Military bases.

Future Considerations

Proposed Expansion of Tools for Advanced Manufacturing for Veterans

Based upon the success of the Tools for Advanced Manufacturing pilot and increasing demand by all stakeholders, ECU’s Office of Innovation and Economic Development, and its current and proposed additional partners, seek support through Golden LEAF’s Mid-Skills Essential Skills in Advanced Manufacturing Initiative to expand this systematic approach to closing the skills gap and increasing the talent pool for advanced manufacturing and other high wage, technical employment opportunities in southeastern North Carolina.

Expansion will occur by the addition of two additional sites anchored by Fayetteville Technical Community College serving the Fort Bragg region and Craven Community College serving the Cherry Point/Camp Lejeune region. Existing collaboration will continue with Pitt Community College serving the Seymour Johnson region.

Recruitment of advanced manufacturing employers will continue within the Seymour Johnson region and be replicated in the Fort Bragg and Cherry Point/Camp Lejeune regions working directly with Fayetteville Technical CC and Craven CC beginning immediately. Detailed planning discussions are beginning with these two community colleges to customize program delivery for their campuses and meet the specific needs of local employers.

This expansion will support six programs annually, two each offered in Craven, Cumberland and Pitt Counties, for a total of twelve programs.  Each course will last 13 days, will accommodate 20 students, and provide a rapid employment process for veterans entering civilian life, while simultaneously supporting advanced manufacturers seeking to hire technically-skilled, leadership-oriented employees.

Scaling the Tools for Advanced Manufacturing program requires additional resources beyond the private philanthropic donation and in-kind resources used to fund the pilot program. While initial servicemembers/veterans have been hired by industry partners through the pilot, time on the job for these initial hires and subsequent hires will better enable these firms to quantify the financial and workforce benefits of this program and thus determine their optimal long term support for the program. Simultaneously, servicemembers/veterans that secure desirable employment through the program are expected to increase the perceived value and willingness to pay among future applicants. Thus, long-term sustainability will be achieved through employer support and participant fees, enhanced whenever possible with in-kind support and private donations.

Finalist Presentation

UEDA Awards of Excellence Finalists presented at the Annual Summit in Pittsburgh on October 28, 2013. Summit attendees then voted for the best initiative in each category.