Over the past decade, local Asheville residents have experienced steady wage and job growth and Buncombe County has seen its median household income rise to its highest level this century. For a variety of reasons those gains have not been shared equally and inequality – Asheville’s poverty rate is 30% greater than the national average1 – has continued to be a persistent problem in the area. Perplexingly, local employers seeking skilled healthcare workers, educators and manufacturing employees face a shortage of qualified candidates.
The Skills Training Employment Program (STEP), a partnership between Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College and the Buncombe County Department of Health and Human Services, seeks to connect qualified candidates to open jobs as well as provide training opportunities to local residents that want to reskill. Bank of America funds nearly half of the STEP program directly through grants as part of the bank’s $1.25 billion five-year commitment to advance racial equality and economic opportunity.
The support allows STEP to help low-income individuals aged 16+ continue their education, work with students to develop job skills, and pay for essentials like classes, books and materials. Courses include English language, literacy and numeracy, occupational training and two-year degree-path curriculum courses. The STEP Career Resource Center also offers essentials like resume creation, interview training and employer connections. STEP is an important initiative for Buncombe County, helping remove educational and employment barriers to high-quality jobs, and gives locals the opportunity to share in the areas broader gains.