The Leonard G. Herring Family Foundation (HFF) announced a $1 million commitment to Wilkes Community College (WCC) to support the ongoing success of NC Tech Paths and other high-demand, high-mobility career pathways offered through WCC. Having proven the initial strategic concept as a stand-alone nonprofit, NC Tech Paths will be integrated into the operational infrastructure of WCC going forward.

The funds will support recruitment and job placement efforts for information technology (IT) programs, as well as other WCC programs aligned to high-growth, high-paying careers.

“NC Tech Paths has been a very successful program for preparing and connecting our neighbors for jobs in the digital economy that allow them to stay in the community and thrive,” explained Lee Herring, Board Chair of NC Tech Paths and President of the Leonard G. Herring Family Foundation. “We want to see this work continue to flourish, and we believe the College is an ideal permanent home for the NC Tech Paths mission. With this integration, the College can leverage what we’ve learned about recruitment and job placement and continue to apply it to students in IT while expanding those services to other high-demand career paths beyond IT that pay a family-sustaining wage.”

The announcement comes at a time when WCC is looking to bolster its enrollment following declines caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. “The timing could not be better,” explained Morgan Francis, interim president of WCC. “We need to recruit more students, and this affords us the resources to do so. The new positions at WCC will be funded by the Herring Family Foundation, not state funding.” Funds from HFF will be used for a recruitment position, an industry liaison and job placement position, and an operational budget to support marketing, promotion, and employer network cultivation.

WCC will retain the NC Tech Paths brand, systems, and employer network as the program becomes an ongoing strategic initiative of WCC. Dr. Zach Barricklow, Vice President of Rural Innovation at WCC and founding Executive Director of NC Tech Paths, will maintain responsibility for the initiative. The program’s transition to WCC will take place over the coming months.

Since its inception, the NC Tech Paths team recruited 133 learners into IT pathways, 86% of whom completed their program successfully. In the first year of operation, NC Tech Paths placed 45 graduates into IT jobs averaging over $50,000 as the starting base salary and equating to over 70% earnings growth for the graduates. Employer partnerships established by NC Tech Paths will continue as it transitions under WCC.

“NC Tech Paths has momentum with industry partners,” explained Barricklow. “We have an opportunity to leverage that momentum with employer partners and ensure it benefits as many local WCC students as possible looking to enter high-demand career fields.”

“I am proud of the founding team of NC Tech Paths,” emphasized Lee Herring. “They have been strong advocates for those seeking to better their lives in our community. They embraced innovation, tested ideas, and applied their learning. They proved that our region could play a role in meeting statewide workforce needs without exporting our talent to the bigger cities.”

The Masthead, a co-working space owned by NC Tech Paths, will continue operations as a nonprofit organization without disruption. The Masthead seeks to benefit and grow the local technology and entrepreneurial communities, offering co-working space, programming, and meeting room rentals to the public benefit of the greater Wilkes region.

WCC will continue its partnership with Per Scholas to provide in-demand training and certifications for individuals interested in pursuing a career in IT. Per Scholas is a national nonprofit that allows WCC to offer a variety of accelerated programs geared toward adult learners looking to quickly obtain an industry certification and prepare for entry-level jobs.

The Herring Family Foundation (HFF), based in Wilkes County, honors the civic and philanthropic spirit of Leonard and Rose Herring and their family. On behalf of the Herring Family, HFF seeks to enable individuals to learn, grow, and provide richer and healthier lives for themselves and their families.