(TNS) -- Gov. Pat McCrory called the high-tech collision repair program at Fayetteville Technical Community College a "role model for the rest of the nation."
He spoke Wednesday morning at a ribbon-cutting for the program's new $4.5 million center at the Fayetteville's Military Business Park off Santa Fe Drive.
Other speakers likened FTCC's collision repair center to a success story, a landmark in education, even a "technical tsunami."
Eren and Damien Moore, two of the first students working in FTCC's innovative blend of education and business input, offered a more personal description.
"It's a chance for success in the future," Damien Moore said as his wife nodded. "It's exciting. The job opportunities out there are amazing."
The couple, among three dozen students in the first classes, are being trained to fill what industry executives call a "critical gap" in auto repair. Sheet metal and chrome have given way to high-tech materials. Brute strength and big wrenches are no longer necessary. Modern cars require knowledge and skills that an aging work force doesn't have.
"There are thousands of shops across this country, and every one of them needs skilled workers," said Clark Plucinski, executive director of the Collision Repair Education Foundation, which encourages programs to train future workers in the industry.
FTCC's program, which opened in August, is the result of brainstorming among college President Larry Keen and industry executives.
"It's a desire to match business needs with educational capabilities," Keen said to a crowd of more than 200. "I learned about this need a while back, and I sat down with Steve McGlothlin."
McGlothlin, an executive with Gerber Collision and Glass, filled Keen in. The auto repair industry was looking at a long-term need for thousands of technically savvy workers. There was no place to find them, because no one was training them.
"And here we were," Keen said. "We have one of the greatest pools of talent in the country, Fort Bragg. We just had to get the need and the talent together. When we started we have the military in mind."
The result: a certificate curriculum that prepares workers for both the insurance and repair industry. Students can earn accreditation in a variety of specialties, all of which have evolved over the past decade.
The program took a little more than a year to create. Cumberland County added $3 million for the building in the Military Business Park. Industry officials embraced the program, donating more than $1 million in funds and equipment.
"It's a technological tsunami," said John Van Alstyne, CEO and president of the Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair, referring to the technical and structural advancements in today's auto manufacturing. "In areas of new vehicles, materials and safety technology, there's no room to be ill-prepared."
The program, said PPG Industry officer Bryan Robinson, gives Fayetteville something no one else in the country can boast.
"I've been around the country, and I haven't seen a similar program designed to meet this need," Robinson said. "In fact, I've been talking to people in Europe, and they said that they don't know of anything like it. So, you may have the only program like it on Earth."
McCrory said the FTCC program could serve as a model for future business programs in state technical schools.
"When we're recruiting businesses to come to North Carolina, they say, 'I'm looking for skilled workers. I desperately need them,'" he said. "We have to be able to fill that need.
"At the same time, we have a work force looking for jobs. We must educate in areas that need workers. They will find jobs, rather than graduating with no job and a debt. This is a win-win proposal.
"We've got plenty of people who can make speeches," McCrory said. "We need people who can make things, not speeches. People who can keep things working. If we want to recruit industry to this state, this is the kind of program we need."
For Damien Moore, looking for a new career, the words of praise are nice. Like the other 60 percent of students who are in transition from the military to a civilian career, the promise of a job when he's finished is nicer.
He and his wife enjoy automobiles and hope to work together when they graduate after two years of training.
"I want to know everything," Eren Moore said. "The field is wide-open, and they are looking for people everywhere."
Keen said the industry's interest is proof that education and business can work together.
"When an employer comes in and says, 'I want you and you and you and you' before even finishing, that says a lot about the program - and the students," he said. "It's not a 'maybe,' it's not a 'hope to.' If you do what you're supposed to do, there will be a job waiting. That's a guarantee."
©2015 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.)
Editor's note: This story was updated at 8:40 a.m. on Feb. 6 to accurately reflect use of the term "technical tsunami."