Panel aims to help 2 mil­lion NC work­ers get de­grees, bet­ter jobs

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - News - BY SHELBI POLK [email protected]­sob­server.com Shelbi Polk: 919- 829- 4557, Shelbi Polk

In North Carolina, 67 per­cent of jobs re­quire more than just a high school de­gree, but less than half of our work­force is pre­pared to take them on. Just 49 per­cent of 25to 44-year-olds – 1.4 North Carolini­ans to­tal – have achieved some form of post-se­condary ed­u­ca­tion.

The myFu­tureNC Com­mis­sion wants to change that.

After a year of anal­y­sis, re­search and bridge build­ing with in­dus­tries and stake­hold­ers across the state, the com­mis­sion an­nounced its new achieve­ment goal Wed­nes­day. It wants to see 2 mil­lion 25- to 44year-olds with high-qual­ity post-se­condary de­grees or cre­den­tials by 2030. That would be around twothirds of the pro­jected state pop­u­la­tion in that age range.

Dale Jenk­ins, co-chair­man of the com­mis­sion and CEO of Med­i­cal Mu­tual Hold­ings, said he has seen the changes in North Carolina’s job op­por­tu­ni­ties first­hand.

“I grew up in Ruther­ford County. There were prob­a­bly 50 or 60 tex­tile mills,” Jenk­ins said. “To­day there are none.”

Jenk­ins pointed out the de­cline in blue col­lar jobs and the un­equal dis­tri­bu­tion of ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­nity across the state.

“This is noth­ing short of a cri­sis,” he said.

In ad­di­tion to the fi­nal at­tain­ment goal, the com- mis­sion rec­om­mends track­ing other met­rics, in­clud­ing pre-K en­roll­ment, fourth- and eighth­grade NAEP pro­fi­ciency, ACT com­pos­ite scores, K-12 ab­sen­teeism, high school grad­u­a­tion rates, and post-se­condary en­roll­ment and com­ple­tion rates.

Com­mis­sion mem­bers also want to track la­bor mar­ket-re­lated data such as the share of young adults en­rolled in school or work­ing, the over­all la­bor force par­tic­i­pa­tion rate, the share of mid- ca­reer adults with fam­ily in­come at or above a liv­ing wage, and cur­rent and fore­casted work­force de­mand com­pared to the sup­ply of grad­u­ates.

‘STATE LED BY LO­CALLY OWNED’

Peter Hans, an­other co-chair­man of the com­mis­sion and pres­i­dent of the North Carolina Com­mu­nity Col­lege Sys­tem, said that there will be county and re­gional goals in ad­di­tion to statewide goals. In an in­ter­view after the event, Hans de­scribed the project as “state led but lo­cally owned.”

Hans and Jenk­ins also said that we need to fo­cus on col­lab­o­ra­tion across the three si­los of ed­u­ca­tion: K-12, com­mu­nity col­leges and other uni­ver­si­ties.

If North Carolina isn’t able to meet these goals, the com­mis­sion projects that 400,000 peo­ple will be left be­hind.

“The out­look for folks who don’t have post-se­condary de­grees or high qual­ity cre­den­tials is not as promis­ing. Quite frankly, it is not the way it used to be 20 or 30 years ago when you could find mean­ing­ful em­ploy­ment,” Jenk­ins said.

Blue-col­lar jobs might be dis­ap­pear­ing, but myFu­tureNC hopes to il­lu­mi­nate many other paths to a steady ca­reer.

“For in­stance, at com­mu­nity col­lege, we have the tra­di­tional aca­demic pro­grams which lead to a two-year de­gree, or the col­lege trans­fer cour­ses that lead to a very af­ford­able path for a four-year de­gree,” Hans said. “We also have short-term work­force train­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties. These are eightto 12-week pro­grams in con­struc­tion, trans­porta­tion, in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy, man­u­fac­tur­ing, pub­lic safety and health­care which can lead to good wages and very mean­ing­ful ca­reers in a short amount of time.”

After the event, Jenk­ins spoke about his hopes that the busi­ness sec­tor can work with ed­u­ca­tors to make sure stu­dents are leav­ing schools with the skills they need.

“The skills that are re­quired to­day to be suc­cess­ful in the busi­ness com­mu­nity are per­haps dif­fer­ent than they have been in the past, so we have to have a co­or­di­nated ef­fort be­tween busi­ness and ed­u­ca­tors to tai­lor make pro­grams of ed­u­ca­tion that make sense for the jobs that are be­ing cre­ated in the fu­ture,” Jenk­ins said. “There’s an es­ti­mate that says that since 2009, 99 per­cent of the jobs that have been cre­ated re­quire a de­gree beyond high school.”

The com­mis­sion re­ports that 50 per­cent of North Carolina em­ploy­ers can­not find the skilled em­ploy­ees that they need. At the an­nounce­ment, Gov. Roy Cooper em­pha­sized the im­por­tance of a skilled work­force in at­tract­ing busi­nesses to the state.

“We’re out re­cruit­ing jobs for our state, and we’re do­ing a good job of it,” Cooper said. But to keep up, Cooper said North Carolina needs a skilled work­force and a strong ed­u­ca­tion pipe­line to pre­pare that work­force.

SHELBI POLK [email protected]­sob­server.com

Gov. Roy Cooper ad­dresses at­ten­dees of the myFu­tureNC event at N.C. State last week.

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