PITTSBORO — In the hot and humid mid-July air, Lizabeth Silva, student of Central Carolina Community College, climbed into a bright red seated forklift, maneuvering the machine under close instruction from forklift instructor Ben Rankin.
Silva picked up a wooden palette with orange traffic cones on top, reversed to the opposite end of one of the CCCC Chatham Main Campus’ parking lots and seamlessly zigzagged between a line of traffic cones back to where she started.
The crowd — made up of the 11-student cohort of the Building Bridges Program, CCCC staff members and other attendees — applauded as Silva rejoined her peers.
Silva said she joined the program because as a woman in a traditionally male-dominated trade field, she wanted to learn how to do things herself.
“Because my mom always says, ‘If you want something done, you gotta do it yourself,’” she said.
Student after student got on the forklift after Silva at the program’s open house, and demonstrated the skills they learned since the cohort started the program on Monday, July 17.
CCCC’s Building Bridges Program, spearheaded by Dean of Workforce & Continuing Education Programs Greg Singleton, aims to provide underemployed, unemployed and justice-involved individuals with a week-long training where students gain career readiness soft skills, forklift certification and OSHA-10 training, a workplace safety certification.
Before the forklift demonstration, Singleton and others involved with organizing, teaching and bringing this program to life addressed the latest cohort.
Singleton thanked each individual and organization who had a hand in making this program come to life, which included the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, and Carolina Handling and Chatham Media Group (the previous owners of the Chatham News & Record) for donating forklifts to the program.
“Now it comes into fruition,” Singleton said. “This really has energy.”
While the program is intended to help its students acquire jobs at places like Wolfspeed, VinFast, the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, and so on, this program gives its students the skills to get into other fields.
Marica Tedder, workforce development program manager for the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, said one of the students from the very first cohort in January 2023 ended up using the career readiness skills and mechanical skills to open his own motorcycle repair shop.
“He felt like the forklift class opened his eyes to see outside of the box,” she said.
CCCC President Lisa M. Chapman said the students are putting in the hard work and are taking advantage of the program.
Being only a week-long program, it allows for flexibility; In addition to being enrolled in the Building Bridges Program, Jeff Ganon said five students in the cohort are “dual enrolled” in this program and semesters-long programs at CCCC.
Silva is enrolled in the Building Construction Technology degree and decided to take this program to supplement the skills she has been learning since the fall 2022 semester.
The program also has a partnership with Fifth Third Bank, Tedder said.
They schedule virtual quarterly workshops to teach students the basics of financing, which can include how to open a bank account, purchase a home and budgeting, along with other financial awareness skills, Tedder said.
Rankin, also safety coordinator for over 20 years at CCCC, said it means a lot to be able to help the students of this program.
We want to serve people in a way that helps improve their life for them, their family and their community,” Rankin said. “And by doing this, and seeking out and developing ways to help underserved individuals is a good pathway to the future.”