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LeagueTLC Innovation Express
Exploring Issues, Innovations, and New Developments
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Pathways to Employment: A Welfare-to-Work Program

Becky Paneitz

Central Piedmont Community College

Pathways to Employment is a community-based initiative linking Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC), the Department of Social Services, community businesses, and other organizations to move participants from welfare to work. In September 1998, CPCC in cooperation with the Department of Social Services developed a flexible, short-term program targeted for welfare recipients that provides academic, social, and job-specific training designed to prepare them to enter the workforce as skilled employees.

Program Summary

As a leader in adult education and literacy, CPCC’s Community Development Department recognized the need to provide strong basic skills and workplace skills in order for welfare recipients to succeed when their benefits lapse. It was determined that a course of study that provided education in an area of high worker demand while reinforcing basic skills and employment skills was necessary.

In an effort to provide short-term training that enables a welfare participant to find successful employment, CPCC in partnership with the Department of Social Services researched areas of employer needs. This collaborative effort gave CPCC a more accurate representation of the needs of the business community. With this information, CPCC provides relevant skills training that benefits both the labor market and program participants.


In addition to its strong partnership with the Department of Social Services, the Pathways program is linked with other organizations to meet the needs of the community. Organizations such as the United Way of Central Carolinas, Charlotte Enterprise Community, Christ Episcopal Church, Johnston YMCA, Sprint PCS, Carolinas Medical Center, Employment Security Commission, JobLink Centers, Break the Cycle Foundation, Charlotte Women’s Shelter, the Charlotte Housing Authority, Goodwill Industries, Freddie Mac, and the City of Charlotte Neighborhood Development all participate in the Pathways program by offering scholarships and participant support.


Funding from the various partners in the program is itemized below:

  • In June 1998, the Pathways to Employment Program received grants from the North Carolina Community College System for a total of $43,000.
  • In June 1999, the Pathways to Employment Program received a two-year grant of $103,300 from the North Carolina Community College System.
  • In December 1999, the Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services provided $41,670 to fund an on-campus computer lab for the Pathways to Employment Program.
  • In January 2000, CPCC received a second enhancement grant of $40,000 for program development from the North Carolina Community College System.
  • In June 2001, the Pathways to Employment Program received a two-year grant of $180,000 from the North Carolina Community College System.
  • The Pathways Program also received a $40,000 grant from the United Way of Central Carolinas in 2000, a $43,000 grant in 2001, and a $34,000 grant in 2002 to fund student scholarships.
  • In October 2002, Pathways received $15,000 from Freddie Mac for tuition and books; over three years, this will fund up to 15 Credit Smart classes designed to teach financial literacy.
  • In January 2003, Pathways to Employment received a five-year grant for $125,000 from the Christ Episcopal Church in Charlotte to fund student scholarships. In-kind support from CPCC is estimated to be approximately $260,000 over a five-year period.


A CPCC curriculum faculty task force set about developing a short-term training program that was responsive to local employment needs, contained components of cognitive and affective skills that employers indicated were needed in successful workers, and represented the first rung of a career ladder in an employment field of continued growth potential. The resulting program represents a shift away from instructional offerings based on seat time and grades toward designs that are self-paced, outcome-based, and focused on interpersonal as well as technical skills, and that provide an opportunity for work experience. The model incorporates three integrated components: human resources (employability and life skills); basic skills (reading, math, communication skills, and GED preparation); and the job skills necessary to succeed in a specific field. It is delivered in a 12-week format.

The development of the curriculum options is based on workforce needs in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area. Curriculum options include Medical Reimbursement Specialist; Office Information System Specialist and Receptionist; Customer Service Representative; Hospital Unit Coordinator; Medical Office Administrative Procedures; Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration; and Vinyl Siding Installation.

A partnership with the Department of Social Services provides an effective way to recruit, manage, and retain welfare participants in the Pathways program. An on-site Department of Social Services representative provides much needed support to both the program and its participants. The social worker has access to potential program participants and has knowledge of funding sources, which helps in the recruitment of candidates who can benefit from the program. The partnership between CPCC and the Department of Social Services assures a successful program and improves retention by providing students with social services support. Direct access reduces scheduling conflicts and assists with personal issues such as childcare and transportation that may interfere with the participant’s study schedule.

Pathways developed partnerships with local employers to help students obtain employment upon graduation. To that effect, businesses partnering in the program have agreed to give consideration for employment to program participants. Representatives from area businesses and placement agencies such as Carolinas HealthCare System, Presbyterian Hospital, Sprint PCS, MedClaim, Superior Mechanical, LT Mechanical, Ross & Whitmer, B.B. & T. Bank, Kelly Services, Pro Staff, and Med Dent provide valuable opportunities for field trips, clinical experiences, job shadowing, and guest speakers. Representatives from these organizations and others participate in job fairs for the college’s graduating classes.

Results and Impact

The Pathways to Employment program has enjoyed success for a variety of reasons:

  • The 80-percent attendance and grades of 80 percent and higher required for students to graduate help establish very high expectations for the participants. In the end, the graduates are well trained in their courses of study. Turning out qualified candidates to the workforce establishes a respected reputation for CPCC among its business partners, who then anticipate the next group of graduates.
  • The partnership with the Department of Social Services has resulted in the funding and establishment of a 20-station computer lab at the Central Campus for Pathways to Employment participants.
  • This program trains individuals with multiple barriers to employment in jobs that have promising futures.
  • The career-path design of the Pathways to Employment Program encourages lifelong learning.
  • The program allows students lacking a high school diploma or GED to access CPCC’s skills-training courses.
  • The program design meets the needs of Welfare-to-Work clients and other clientele to be served under the Workforce Development Act of 1998.
  • The Pathways to Employment Program began in the fall of 1998 with one course and grew over five years to an offering of eight programs.
  • In January 2000, CPCC’s Pathway to Employment program was presented at Futures Assembly 2000; it is considered a model for other institutions developing similar programs.
  • CPCC’s Pathways to Employment Program has been presented as a model at numerous state and national conferences.
  • President George W. Bush participated in a press conference in Charlotte in February 2002, at which he discussed welfare reform and praised the Pathways program, saying, “The innovation that takes place in this community is positive and strong, and that’s why we are here: to herald a program that actually works. Sometimes they sound good on paper, they read good, but the results are short. And that’s not the case in Mecklenburg County when it comes to putting people to work.”

The Pathways to Employment program links many facets of the community to better assure the success of the individual participant. The very high retention rate of 80.25 percent is indicative of the program’s success. To date, 423 students have graduated from the program, and 343 clients (81 percent) were employed after six months. Seventy-seven percent were employed after one year. Fifty percent of those students needing a GED earned it during the course of their program. Seventy-five percent of the graduates are no longer receiving TANF benefits, and the average pay is $10.50 an hour. Follow-up data is collected by Pathways to Employment staff and the Department of Social Services.

The success of the participants gives credence to claims of the value of strong community links and quality education integral to the Pathways program. The quality of the short-term training, with its integrated curricula, on-site social worker, and strong partnerships with community agencies makes the Pathways to Employment Program at Central Piedmont Community College truly successful.

For more information, contact

Bobby Sutton
Associate Dean, Community Development
Central Piedmont Community College

PO Box 35
Charlotte NC 28235-5009
(704) 330-6183

This article is from the new book, Building a Workforce System Through Partnering, recently published by the League for Innovation in the Community College with support from Microsoft Corporation.


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