CARY — The Cary Chamber of Commerce was aflutter this Valentine’s Day, with local and regional representatives on hand to celebrate the joining of two organizations. The Cary-based National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship (NACCE) announced its acquisition of SkillPointe, a website for skills training and job placement. Cary’s Mayor Harold Weinbrecht, Council member Michelle Craig, and Chamber President Mark Lawson were on hand to celebrate the news, among others.

Dr. Rebecca Corbin opens today’s press conference by announcing her organization’s acquisition of SkillPointe. Photo by Jen McFarland

Solving the Skills Gap

SkillPointe is a platform that seeks to offer career exploration, training, scholarships, and jobs all in one place. The site connects 60,000 training programs from more than 1,000 community colleges and other programs and ties them to an array of in-demand job paths – more than 80. Not sure which path is for you? The SkillPointe site also offers a 90-second quiz to help determine the right path for you.

“It’s designed for the person that might be struggling, ‘I don’t know what I want to do’,” explained Dr. Rebecca Corbin, president & CEO of NACCE in today’s press conference. “The research bears out if you embark on a path [to] something that you’re passionate about and interested in, you’re going to be much better at it.”

The site then connects job paths to training opportunities in your area, and can also connect to funding through SkillPointe’s sister organization, the SkillPointe Foundation. For companies, job openings can be added and tied to job paths and regions. It’s all part of a multi-pronged approach to solving the skills gap, providing new job opportunities for workers, and filling vital skills for businesses.

“The SkillPointe platform helps grow the supply of skilled employees that employers need,” said Todd Wilson, founder of SkillPointe.

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Charting a Path

In June of last year, Corbin sat next to Wilson at the annual Community Colleges of Appalachia conference. The two got to talking and Wilson shared his challenges as founder of SkillPointe scaling the platform and reaching new audiences. Wilson was also considering transitioning to a non-profit and Corbin, the NACCE President sought to offer suggestions based on her non-profit expertise and work with hundreds of community colleges across the country. Six months later, the two organizations were closing on the acquisition.

For Wilson, the partnership eased the transition to non-profit status and positioned the SkillPointe resource for use by community colleges, a key segment of their audience that they had struggled to connect with. While 90% of the training programs listed on the site are offered by community colleges, only 25% of the site users had ever visited a community college site.

“It would take us forever to run around the country and try to get these community colleges signed up,” Wilson said in his comments at the Chamber. “But NACCE has a connectivity to that space like nothing else we’ve seen. And so we really do think it’s the perfect place for the next chapter of SkillPointe.”

Corbin was clear that both companies spent time talking with their boards and doing due diligence. But if anything, that process confirmed for her that this was the right fit. The deal was finalized last December.

“We found that spirit of cooperation. It just shows, I think, in entrepreneurial and innovative spaces, we need to think differently about how we advance ourselves,” Corbin said. “We charted something different.”

Coming to Cary

The NACCE has offices in Massachusetts and Florida but opted to move its headquarters to the Western Wake Campus of Wake Tech in 2019 citing the workforce opportunities and strong community college system. But Corbin also noted the opportunities for tech solutions that are inherent to the area.

“I really credit being here in the Triangle to opening up [this] opportunity,” Corbin told me. “It’s a real celebration of innovation right here.”

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According to Corbin, the Cary Chamber of Commerce was “instrumental” in deciding to make the move to the Triangle, and their subsequent support helped the organization with the transition, even assisting with resources to get them into their location. Corbin was enthusiastic about being able to make the announcement at the Cary Chamber.

“We decided to make this our home just because it seemed like it checked all the boxes,” said Corbin. “We’re very grateful that things have come to fruition in this way.”

Cary Chamber President Mark Lawson was equally effusive about NACCE’s decision to come to Cary.

“It’s an honor to have you here. I think of all the growth [in] just a short amount of time and the impact that you’ve made, all across the country,” Lawson said in remarks. “Your relationships with Wake Tech and our school system and all of higher education. We’re just really blessed and appreciative.”

Mark Lawson, Jeff Moncrief, Todd Wilson, Harold Weinbrecht, Rebecca Corbin, Jerry Edmonds, and John Loyack. Photo by Shanell Majors

Not Your Typical Acquisition

This is not your traditional acquisition story. The SkillPointe platform has been valued at $6 million, but rather than collecting that money, the company is opting to donate its resources to NACCE and take the value as a tax deduction. The transition means SkillPointe becomes a division of the NACCE non-profit and delivers them into NACCE’s network of more than 400 community colleges.

“It’s just a wonderful gift,” Corbin said. “The investors decided rather than making money on this, they would rather donate it and see it grow. And that is the challenge that we took on is coming up with a plan to ensure it grows.”

In terms of staff, NACCE will absorb the SkillPointe team, with Debbie Poplin, SkillPointe’s former executive director, transitioning to the NACCE team as Chief of Staff. Wilson will remain as an advisor to the NACCE team.

Community College Flex

Wednesday morning’s press conference included comments from John Loyack, Vice President of Economic Development for the North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS), and Jerry Edmonds, Vice President of Workforce & Community Engagement at Vance-Granville Community College. Both men spoke passionately about the importance of skill-based training and non-traditional degree programs and shared stories of their organizations offering needed skills that translate to well-paid jobs for the people of North Carolina.

The conversation also covered the emergence of AI and the need to train on new skills and technology as they develop. Edmonds advocated for the ability of community colleges to be a resource in those scenarios.

“Community colleges are nimble enough to adjust to those changes,” he said. “What really gets me up every morning is the fact that I can be entrepreneurial. If a class is needed, and there’s the demand, I can put a class in place. On the workforce side of the house, we kind of have that latitude.”

It’s this kind of training that SkillPointe and NACCE hope to highlight on the platform, shortening the window for employers to find skilled staff, and facilitating interesting and well-paid work for their users. And with the connection to NACCE, there’s also space to encourage these workers to consider starting their own small businesses. According to Corbin, that’s the next step for NACCE’s SkillPointe.

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“We will be rolling out kind of an entrepreneurial pathway,” Corbin told me. “There are certain occupations like welding for example. [They] not only teach the students how to be good welders but tell them and show them how they can go to work for an employee for a couple of years, also learn those business entrepreneurship skills so that if you want to, you can go out on your own and you can create your own business and hire others in your community. This is particularly exciting for rural areas, especially here in North Carolina, because we’re always looking to try to advance opportunity and equity.”

Corbin says they’re planning to start with Vance Granville Community College to work on providing these supplementary business skills.

“We really believe that this is going to be a great solution to helping solve the skills gap, not only for the triangle in North Carolina but for all of us nationally.”