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 (ORNC), ECU, Community Colleges near military bases and in Greenville and regional manufacturers collaborate to provide unemployed and exiting veterans a residential training course entitled Tools for Advanced Manufacturing for Veterans (TFAMFV). ORNC seeks to eliminate reintegration and workforce gaps and capitalize on this once-in-a-generation opportunity to engage, employ, and retain veterans. The course lasts 11-13 days; accommodates 25 participants; and provides a rapid training and employment process for veterans entering civilian life, while supporting advanced manufacturers seeking to hire technically skilled and leadership-oriented employees.

Participants may earn three national credentials: Lean/Six Sigma yellow belt; OSHA 30 card; and an ACT National Career Readiness Certificate™. They are able to take additional ACT WorkKeys® assessment tests. They receive Innovation/Design training, resume and academic guidance. Classes are held at the university, community college, city hall and local manufacturing facilities. The goal is to capitalize on veteran knowledge and experience, position veterans to contribute at local firms, and facilitate their successful reintegration.

Local firms host classes, sponsor lunches, and conduct “speed interviews” to introduce companies and prospective employees. Registration costs are supported by ECU’s Champions of Freedom Fund. While veterans prepare to begin civilian careers, their families are introduced to the city and region and the 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 cooperative agreement from the Telemedicine & Advanced Technology Research Center and U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command (TATRC/USAMRMC). ORNC translates its research findings into valued services and develops unique partnerships to address the resilience, rehabilitation and reintegration concerns of veterans, their families.  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-motivated 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, North Carolina Community Colleges located near NC military bases, the City of Greenville and regional industry advanced manufacturing partners to deliver “Tools for Advanced Manufacturing for Veterans (TAMV),” a three-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 Yellow Belt, and 3) OSHA 30.  Each course accommodates 25 participants that interview with and receive feedback from regional and statewide manufacturing partners. 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

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), Community Colleges, the City of Greenville and regional and statewide industry partners, delivered four three-week training courses, “Tools for Advanced Manufacturing for Veterans (TAMV)” from July, 2013  through September 2014 and will begin its fifth In October, 2014.  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 Yellow 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;
  • Fork Lift Certification and instruction in measurements at some locations;
  • Access to the supporting reintegration services of Operation Reentry NC;
  • Resume development and career counseling; and,
  • Additional instruction in Design Thinking and Innovation Processes 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

ECU and Community College 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.


Since its inception in July, 2013, TAMV has been presented four times throughout eastern North Carolina to 73 participants from the Marine Corps Air Station-Cherry Point, from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and Ft. Bragg Army Airborne and Special Operations Forces Base.  These participants have included active duty, separating and retired veterans ranging in years of service and spanning the Vietnam, Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.  ECU conducted briefings with the servicemember transition assistance programs, and inclusion of marketing the course during the Army’s Career and Alumni Program (ACAP) and other branches’ transition programs has generated a waiting list of over 300 veterans seeking admission to the course.

Each (100%) of the 73 candidates scored at the silver level and above in the ACT National Career Readiness Certificate; each received OSHA 30 certification and either White or Yellow Lean/Six Sigma Belt certification; and 40% choose to take additional WorkKeys examinations and scored well.  Testing results from this 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 regional industries.

During the Speed Interviewing process, each participant has at least four Interviews with regional manufacturers that have been provided the veterans’ resumes.  Every effort is made to match industry and veterans that express interest in meeting with one another.  The speed interviews have led to more extensive interviews and job offers for the veterans.  Each cohort is requested to respond to periodic surveys to assess the number of transitioning/retiring veterans that find employment within six months of separation from the military; the number of transitioning/retiring veterans that are employed in advanced manufacturing and reside in eastern North Carolina; and the number of transitioning/retiring veterans enrolling in community college or university credit courses to further their education.

Future Considerations

Expansion of Tools for Advanced Manufacturing for Veterans

Based upon the success of the Tools for Advanced Manufacturing for Veteran’s and the increasing demand by all stakeholders, ECU’s has received support for its ECU’s Champions of Freedom Fund, largely from Duke Energy, to continue meeting the needs of veterans and industry by conducting six additional classes through the end of 2015.  Expansion will occur at sites anchored by Fayetteville Technical Community College serving the Fort Bragg region and Craven Community College serving the Cherry Point/Camp Lejeune region.  Additional requests from NC Community Colleges serving the region are under consideration for customizing program delivery to campuses that meet the specific needs of local employers.

This expansion will support additional six programs annually through 2015.  Each course will last 13 days, will accommodate 25 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, 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.  This has proven true with Duke Energy’s support of the program.  Similarly, 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 Santa Fe on September 29-30, 2014. Summit attendees then voted for the best initiative in each category.