More than 260 people will be without jobs when the Western Youth Institution in Morganton closes its doors in January. Lawmakers said it will save the state more than $16 million a year. Faith Schmitt was laid off from the same prison 12 years ago.
"It's devastating. You've got a family to feed. You're trying to figure out options like, what do you do when that's what you've done for so long?" she said.
Schmitt immediately went to Western Piedmont Community College to get new training to find another job. She is now an administrator at the college she once sought out for help and reached out to the prison staff to offer her support.
"We would be willing to do classes for them, interview skills, resumes, just whatever they needed to just let us know," she said.
Leaders with Western Piedmont and Burke Development Incorporated are working together to help prison workers facing unemployment find other jobs. Burke Development is in constant contact with companies currently in or those targeting the area and relay that information to the college which offers associate degrees, certifications and other specialized training.
Scott Darnell with Burke Development said, "We can create a program tomorrow morning. We can create a partnership this afternoon. If an industry needs 15 and people who need 50 hours of training, we need eight people to make a class, we'll find those eight people and put them in a class."
We learned manufacturing and maintenance jobs are in high demand in that area right now.
"You can look at the local papers and there are jobs out there for industrial sewers and industrial mechanics and we have been heavily involved with partners like BDI to help us develop those programs to meet the needs that the workforce has," said Atticus Simpson with Western Piedmont Community College.
The partnership is already spawning progress. A new shopping center set to open in October in Morganton will bring 600 jobs to the area. People who earn a customer service certification at the college will get preferred hiring status.
"Let's get them a job, let's feed their family, let's get them a plan and a career going forward," said Darnell.
The North Carolina Department of Public Safety says there are 225 positions at other prisons in the western part of the state that could be an option for displaced workers. You can find more information about job training opportunities through Western Piedmont Community College and Burke Development Inc.