From the Frontline: An Interview with Tea Yang

Updated: Sep 16

By SPESA


Tea Yang, Program Coordinator for The Industrial Commons and Work in Burke, a project of Burke Development, Inc., spent 16 years on the frontline of manufacturing before entering a career in workforce development. She spoke with us about the important intersection between industry and education, the key components to a perfect training program, and what it’s like operating in the age of Covid-19.


What are the biggest workforce-related challenges you’re experiencing right now?

TY: Work in Burke is a bridge between education and industry and the inability to physically be in the same spaces with students and employers has presented us with many challenges specifically on how to virtually carry out traditionally in-person events. These events, in partnership with both education and industry, are great opportunities for students and parents to learn about career and postsecondary education pathways in Burke County. While we are pivoting toward hosting these events virtually, the pandemic has brought to the surface an inequity in broadband access where many of our families lack high-speed internet access. While the internet can be a great tool and virtual spaces are quickly becoming the “new norm,” the in-person experiences that build networks, partnerships, and community relations are not easily replicated in a virtual space.


How have you seen workforce development evolve over the last three decades?

TY: I have only been a part of workforce development for a little over a year but spent 16 years in the manufacturing industry in Burke and surrounding counties as a frontline employee. From that perspective, I’ve seen an evolution in the relationship between industry and education they co-exist in a symbiotic relationship and are key partners in the development of the current and future workforce especially as industries become more automated and skilled workers are in greater demand. Workforce development organizations are conduits between education and industry by building partnerships, creating initiatives that benefit both, and beyond job training and job placement play a pivotal role in creating pathways towards economic mobility and stability for frontline employees.


Work in Burke, a project of Burke Development, Inc., the economic development organization for Burke County, plays an important role in working with the education system to develop the county’s future workforce by setting goals to increase the number of students who pursue a post-secondary education and decreasing negative perceptions of the industries in the county.


What would you like to see in a universal/national training program?

TY: Aside from the technical and practical aspects, I would like to see more of the following in training programs:

  • Management training: With the assumption that anyone who finishes the training program may one day become team leaders, supervisors, or even managers.

  • Emotional intelligence training: Be able to manage both the bottom line and interpersonal relationships with employees, coworkers, etc.

  • Soft skills training: We often hear that young people entering the workforce lack soft skills, time management, and diligence.


What do you have going on right now, specifically? Any fun projects you’re working on?


TY: Like many other programs, Work in Burke had to pivot quickly after our state’s stay-at-home orders due to Covid-19. Many of our in-person educational enrichment programs/events were canceled and we were scrambling to figure out how to carry on our work virtually. We had to learn quickly and become very creative in our virtual engagements. Some of the projects we’re working on right now are:

  • VIRTUAL Scholarship Night - How to Pay for College - We are in the process of planning one of our annual events where Burke County Public School seniors and their parents meet with College Foundation of North Carolina representatives to discuss the FAFSA, including follow-up virtual lab sessions with GEAR UP, one of our educational program collaborators. Students will also get the chance to e-meet community organizations that have scholarships and financial planning assistance.

  • Virtual Field Trip - Over the last two years, Work in Burke has built an inventory of over 30 industry videos highlighting young people working and thriving in Burke County. We will be using these videos to build a virtual field trip to not only promote our industries but also to educate students about the manufacturing, healthcare, and trade fields.

  • STEAM Projects - We are working on collaborating with other non-profits to develop project kits for students. These will be hands-on, arts and engineering-based kits that students can take home as part of their lesson plans.

More information about Work in Burke:

Website: Work In Burke: Careers in Burke County, NC Facebook: Work in Burke - Home

YouTube: Work in Burke


To fully understand the scope of Work in Burke's partnerships with education and industry, view the video below.

Tea Yang was also a “hot topic” speaker during the 2019 SPESA Executive Conference in New Orleans. Click here to read more about the event and view archived presentations.

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