To Close the Skills Gap, NC Communities Working to Sync Education Priorities with Changing Needs of Job Creators

Have you struggled recently to find the qualified talent you need to fill an open position at your company? Going by the N.C. Department of Commerce’s 2016 Employer Needs Survey, chances are good that you have. More than one-third (39 percent) of respondents from among the 1,900 employers surveyed across all 100 North Carolina counties claimed to have had difficulty hiring to fill a position in the past year. While North Carolina job creators are far from being the only ones faced with this challenge – two million U.S. manufacturing jobs are expected to go unfilled over the next decade due to a shortage of skilled workers – the difference here is that our business, education and community leaders are beginning to strengthen our collaborative efforts to align education and workforce development priorities so we can begin shrinking our state’s skills gap. Recently, the NC Chamber highlighted these efforts in great detail in a special insert we developed to run in the Charlotte, Triad and Triangle Business Journals: Closing the Skills Gap: North Carolina Can’t Afford to Wait.

In addition to detailing successful efforts to uphold North Carolina’s high-quality academic standards and profiles on employer-driven apprenticeship initiatives, the insert features a special piece on the NCWorks Certified Work Ready Communities program by NC Chamber Foundation President Jim Simpson. In it, Jim explains how the NC Chamber Foundation’s involvement in the program, alongside other workforce development partners like the Office of the Governor, Community College System Office, Department of Commerce and Department of Public Instruction, is working to get local business and education leaders in counties across the state collaborating to grow the talented workforces they will need to secure their future competitiveness.

The Work Ready Communities Program utilizes a framework developed by the nonprofit education group, ACT, which has also seen success in many other states. Under this framework, business leaders, local chambers, workforce development boards and the education community work together within each participating county to create a plan to meet a set of workforce goals tailored to that community’s specific growth requirements. Certification goals include raising high-school graduation rates, growing a support base for the program with increased engagement from local employers, and meeting specific targets for the number of National Career Readiness Certificates (NCRCs) achieved by the local workforce. These individually earned certificates assess job seekers’ foundational skills through the lens of ACT’s WorkKeys system, ensuring those who earn the distinction have the adaptable skill sets to handle the on-the-job training and higher level development often required in modern jobs. At the NC Chamber’s most recent board meeting in August, Pearl Burris-Floyd, COO of the Gaston Regional Chamber, discussed the success of the program in her home county. She drove home the point that the specific goals for achieving success outlined by the program are truly reflective of the economic competitiveness indicators real job creators look for when deciding to expand.

Thanks to strong engagement from business and education leaders, today 41 of North Carolina’s 100 counties are participating in the Work Ready Communities program and 19 of those have been designated NCWorks Certified Work Ready Communities by the Chamber Foundation. In addition, more than 300,000 individuals have been awarded NCRCs across the state and nearly 1,800 North Carolina employers have pledged their support. In September, NC Chamber Government Affairs Manager Meaghan Lewis took part in the ACT Workforce Symposium: Advancing Innovative Communities in Nashville, Tenn., where North Carolina was recognized for our high level of success in growing this important program in communities all across our state. We still have work to do, however; at the same event, South Carolina was recognized for achieving full Work Ready certification for all of its counties. The good news is that employers like you are in the perfect position to help us match that level of commitment here in North Carolina. By downloading and completing an application package, you can help get the program off the ground in your county. And adding your company’s name to the growing list of employers who have pledged support across the state will help us keep up the program’s positive momentum.

At the end of the day, securing North Carolina’s future competitiveness is about positioning all of our state’s communities to grow jobs and sending a strong message to businesses that we are prepared to support that growth from day one. Do your part today to help begin closing North Carolina’s skills gap – we simply can’t afford to wait. For additional questions about the NCWorks Certified Work Ready Communities program and the NC Chamber’s efforts to shrink the skills gap, contact Meaghan Lewis at mlewis@ncchamber.net.

Gary J. Salamido
Vice President, Government Affairs
North Carolina Chamber

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