Editor’s note: Innovation Thursday – a deep dive into a newly emerging technology or companies – is a regular feature at WRAL TechWire. This week we focus on new initiatives that reduce barriers to workforce development.

Editor’s note: The article highlights our most recent participant in the “Triangle Voices in Leadership” interview series, Ray Trapp. Stay tuned for more installments in this collection, where WRAL TechWire contributor Dr. Sarah Glova will continue to highlight veteran leaders from across the Triangle region.


RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — Triangle leader Ray Trapp is in a new role, championing an approach to workforce development known as “stackable education.”

“I know it’s a phrase that people toss around a lot and don’t necessarily know what it means,” Trapp told WRAL TechWire in an exclusive interview. “But my life has been stackable education. So I know that pathway works.”

Trapp recently left his role as VP of Strategic Engagement with the Research Triangle Park Foundation to become Executive Director of NPower North Carolina. NPower is a New York-based nonprofit that’s expanding to the Triangle, and Trapp says this role will allow him to support the kind of stackable education that helped him build his career.

“I was a teenage father, at 16, and I joined the military after that, Trapp told me. “From that, went to community college, from there, went to four-year college, from there, continued to work and finish a master’s degree. But all the while, I continued to work, and my education was stackable.”

Ray Trapp

Trapp will be supporting people who have the same question he had as a young veteran—”What’s next for my career?”—by creating what he calls “entry points.”

“Some people think, ‘Oh, it’s as simple as making people go to community college.’ Well, that’s a two-year program,” said Trapp. “Can I go to a two-year program without having a job or without having income? I probably can’t do that, because I’m probably providing for my family. If I can get that person into our program at NPower, and have them come through and get a credential, we build.”

NPower expanding to Raleigh

NPower offers a tuition-free workforce development program for three key groups: 18- to 26-year-olds, military veterans, and military spouses. The 20-week program is only in eight key cities right now (Baltimore, Brooklyn, Detroit, Harlem, Jersey City, Newark, San Francisco, and St. Louis), but it’s expanding to Raleigh, and Trapp is helping to lead the charge.

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“North Carolina was actually chosen because of all of the opportunities within tech, and also because of the population that we’ve traditionally left behind,” said Trapp. “We’re coming in to fix that, to make sure that population is no longer left behind.”

Trapp says the program is a win for our area, considering the talent wars in the Triangle.

“What I see in the Triangle is an amazing community, with amazing opportunities, and big names coming in, especially in the tech industry,” said Trapp. “There’s a new announcement every other day, about either a new company coming in or an existing company that’s growing. With that growth, there also comes a need for talent. I think that we provide that answer in the workforce, and we also provide that answer for folks that traditionally have been left out of these great opportunities that we have coming into the Triangle.”

Trapp said that most who have traditionally been “left out” either don’t have a credential that will lead them into an entry-level job or don’t have a four-year degree.

“We see that a lot of companies now are relaxing the need to have a four-year degree for that entryway, especially into tech careers. So that’s where NPower steps right in, because we do credentialing without the need for a four-year degree. All we need is a high school diploma or a GED, and the willingness to want a career in tech.”

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Participants in the program receive 20 weeks of instructor-led virtual training, opportunities for a paid internship or a project-based learning experience, and the opportunity to earn industry-recognized certifications (like CompTIA A+ & IT Fundamentals+ or a Google IT Support Certificate).

Watching for Barriers

Trapp alsho shared how NPower works to “remove barriers” that might keep people from succeeding in a virtual workforce development program.

“One of the things that we do at NPower is, if we have a student that does not have an Internet service provider at home, we provide a hotspot,” said Trapp. “We take that for granted. I come home, and if Spectrum is out, it is throwing me into a temper tantrum. And I’m going into a mood. But we don’t realize that there are folks that literally do not have Internet at home.”

Trapp said that addressing barriers—like internet access—is an important part of getting more people into tech careers.

“We fill in the gaps with folks that traditionally have never seen a tech career as a viable pathway to anything, because it’s so far outside of the room when I don’t have Internet at home,” said Trapp. “How am I gonna get a tech career, how am I gonna start a tech career, if I don’t have internet? It’s not something that I’m thinking about. So for us at NPower, we try to break those barriers down. We have a social support manager that manages those types of things.”

In the future, Trapp hopes to see a world where more people can get excited about job announcements.

“Say we have an electronic vehicle manufacturer that says, ‘We’re gonna hire 5,000 people.’ Well, that’s great. But where do I start? You know. How? How do I start that journey to become one of those 5,000 people?” said Trapp. “And I don’t think people know that, I don’t think that the reality out there. So I think for us as leaders, we have the onus to break down those barriers and make it easy for folks to have that entree into being one of those 5,000 people selected for a job.”