HAMLET — Richmond Community College is partnering with one of the most recognized names in the automotive industry to bring a new service education program to campus.
The college on Monday announced the future Hendrick Center for Automotive Training, a collaboration with Hendrick Automotive Group, during a ceremony at Cole Auditorium attended by state and county leaders and Hendrick representatives.
IT STARTED WITH A PHONE CALL
RichmondCC President Dr. Dale McInnis said the story of the center began three years ago with a phone call from state Sen. Tom McInnis, R-Moore, leading to the connection with car dealer-turned-franchise owner and NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick.
The senator, who co-chairs the Transportation Committee and Transportation Appropriations Committee, said his relationship with Hendrick dates back to when the automotive mogul was a young dealership owner in Bennettsville, South Carolina. Tom McInnis’ Iron Horse Auction Company later handled a sale for Hendrick Motorsports.
“And from that moment on, we have been crafting a plan on how we can change people’s lives,” Dr. McInnis said.
“This story is about how we’re taking a new approach in guiding and preparing people for high-demand, high-salary careers with great companies like this one, across the state, across the region,” Dr. McInnis continued.
The president said he was proud of the associate degrees offered by the college — specifically naming the nursing and electrical substation programs — because they’re valued and needed to get the jobs and licensures required in those careers.
“But we’re finding that as the job market in this economy is evolving, the need for different credentials is evolving too,” Dr. McInnis said. “And our college, I believe, is on the cutting edge of reframing how college courses can be delivered in a lower cost, quicker time frame to help put people back to work in new careers without putting them into one dime worth of debt.
“At a time when student debt and loans are a big issue, that’s a problem we don’t have here at this college.”
Even with the articulation agreements with four-year colleges, Dr. McInnis said the two-year degree is not the only option and RichmondCC officials have found that a cohort-based short-term training program can provide students with the skills and competency “that employers are desperately seeking right now — at a fraction of the time, a fraction of the cost to the student and their families.”
Dr. McInnis said students in the pharmacy tech, nurse aid and electrical lineman programs are seeing a 90% completion rate and receive multiple job offers when they’re done.
“But the beautiful part is they’re also learning the value of teamwork, showing up on time and following directions because they’re being treated just like they’re at work,” Dr. McInnis said.
The college’s workforce training certificate for automotive technician, which will take weeks to achieve instead of years, is a public-private-philanthropic partnership between the state, college, two local foundations and Hendrick.
FOUNDATIONS OF PARTNERSHIP
Of the $10.5 million earmarked for RichmondCC in the state budget passed last November, $1.5 million was for the automotive program.
The Richmond Community College Foundation is committing a “substantial contribution” to the partnership, according to Laverne Schultz, president of the Board of Directors.
“The announcement today is an example of the power of giving and teamwork,” Schultz said. “When we come together as a team, we create transformative opportunities for Richmond Community College Students everywhere.”
The Foundation for the Carolinas administers funds from the Community Foundation of Richmond County and the Cole Foundation, which were instrumental in the development of the college’s downtown Rockingham campus and are also lending support to the new venture.
In the past two decades, the local foundations have awarded nearly $60 million for projects in Richmond County, “and to help make this a great place to live and to give young people the tools they need to pursue their passions and hopefully ensure their economic prosperity,” according to Brian Collier, executive vice president of the Foundation for the Carolinas.
Collier previously partnered with Hendrick while working with Richard and Kyle Petty in the creation of their Victory Junction camp in Randleman.
“Mr. Hendrick was a key part of that camp’s success and I got the chance to see firsthand how big his heart is and how much he loves this state and our community,” Collier said.
Collier continued, saying that RichmondCC has come to the Foundation several times with “innovative public-private partnerships that have a chance to combine the needs of the students with the needs of employers — but always with a lens of ‘How can we make this project the best in our state and hopefully the best in our country?’”
“Everything has been done to send a message to our community and to our students that we value you, we respect you and we’re vesting in you to ensure the future of this community and to ensure that you know that that depends upon your success,” Collier said.
About the same time Dr. McInnis presented the idea, Collier said the Foundation was looking to honor longtime board member and former dealership owner Russell Bennett.
Collier said it didn’t take long for the board to see that the project supported the automotive industry combined with the notoriety of Hendrick that offered the chance to thank Bennett, “a person synonymous with the automotive industry here in Richmond County.”
Hendrick acknowledged Bennett’s impact on his own career.
“I had five employees…and very little money and it was do or die,” Hendrick recalled. “And Russell Bennett was a great leader in this community, became a great friend of mine. And you would think a competitor wouldn’t want to help a young kid out here selling the same product, but he did.”
SKILLED WORKERS NEEDED
Hendrick eventually grew his business from a small-town dealership to franchise with 5,000 employees at 41 dealerships just in North Carolina — currently in need of 150 technicians in the Tar Heel State and 300 across the 14 states.
The automotive magnate said there were 1,200 open positions across the state.
Nearly 20 years ago, Hendrick partnered with Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte to start the Joe Hendrick Center for Automotive Technology, named in honor of his late father. Since the program started the following year, Hendrick said his company has hired 600 students.
Earlier this year, Wake Tech in Raleigh opened the Hendrick Center for Automotive Excellence.
“I thought I was going to be the only dealer there, but man, when we cut the ribbon, all the dealers in town were there,” Hendrick said. “So they’re already trying to get the students before they go to class.
The desire for technicians from dealers and manufacturers is “overwhelming,” according to Hendrick, who added that students going through the program will not only be able to get jobs locally, but will also be able to find work anywhere in the state or country.
Hendrick pledged to keep working with the college and bring in manufacturers like General Motors, Honda and Toyota.
“Because the support they give the school is something you can’t buy,” Hendrick said. And they’re going to give it to you … that’s the training in different areas. You look at all the (electric vehicles) that people are talking about …you can train for that here too.”
CAREER PATH EXTENSION
The next chapter in the story, Dr. McInnis said, will be the groundbreaking ceremony.
The training facility will be located between the Grimsley and Conder buildings on RCC’s main campus in Hamlet.
“This is a chance for folks in Richmond County and the surrounding counties to see a long-range goal and an opportunity to feed their families and build wealth, create opportunity for their future,” Sen. McInnis said.
According to the N.C. Community College System, 39 schools currently offer Automotive Systems Technology, including Sandhills Community College and Randolph Community College (in collaboration with Montgomery Community College).
No colleges currently offer Alternative Transportation Technology, which teaches how to work on alternative fuel and hybrid vehicles.
Greg Norton, Career and Technical Education director for Richmond County Schools, said the partnership between the college and Hendrick would “hopefully give (students) a pathway forward that aligns vertically with what we’re doing.”
“That’s been a struggle for us, having a good opportunity for them coming out (of high school),” Norton added. “This should … bridge that gap and give them some great opportunities.”
Jeff James will be taking over Richmond Senior High School’s automotive education, succeeding Tony Clewis who retired at the end of this school year.
Jason Perakis, career development director, said the youth apprenticeships feed into the apprenticeship programs at the community college.
“So we have one student that has to go to Sandhills, one student has to go to Forsyth Tech (in Winston-Salem),” Perakis said, adding that this opportunity will help local students save money on travel and housing in order to get their certification.
“We’ve been up to the engine building competition and (Hendrick) has always been open to help our students and truly take personal time out with each one of them to talk to them, which is impressive for a man of his stature,” Perakis continued. “He really cares about these kids.”
NOTE: This story has been edited to remove the opening date. 12:15 p.m. 6-14-22