DURHAM (Aug. 16, 2018) – North Carolina used to have people without jobs. Now it has jobs without people, and leaders from business and academia laid out the challenges of filling those jobs yesterday at the NC Chamber’s annual Conference on Education.
“Employers are ready to grow,” David Fountain, NC President of Duke Energy, told several hundred in attendance. “But many of us, including Duke Energy, can’t find the skills and talent to fill our vacant positions.”
Duke has 300 vacant line-worker positions across the state, Fountain said, and a clear majority of employers say the skills gap and talent pipeline are the biggest challenges they face.
REBECCA TIPPETT, Director of Carolina Demography at UNC-Chapel Hill, laid out both the opportunities and the challenges for the state’s workers and educators.
The state’s total number of jobs is projected to grow 13% over 10 years, Tippett said, but the fastest growth is among jobs that require more education: 14% among jobs requiring an associate degree, 15% among jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree, and 17% among jobs requiring a master’s degree or higher.
As the state’s myFutureNC Commission works to set an overall attainment goal for North Carolina, 47% of NC working-age adults have either a postsecondary degree or high-quality credential, Tippett said. That’s slightly above national average, but largely because of in-migration by educated workers.
Further, educated workers are highly concentrated. Just six counties – Orange, Wake, Mecklenburg, Durham, New Hanover and Watauga – exceed the state average in degree attainment.
Of 100 North Carolina 9th-graders today, Tippett said, 30 can be expected to obtain an associate or bachelor’s degree in 10 years, while 23 are projected to attend college but obtain no degree.
If North Carolina wants to meet the Lumina Foundation’s goal of 60% attainment, she said, it needs to add 672,000 postsecondary degrees.
Tippett pointed to the 905,000 North Carolinians who have some college but no degree as having the best opportunity to get a degree. They’ve made the effort, she said, but “they may need assistance in getting through to success.”
Attainment varies dramatically by race, Tippett said – 62% for Asians, 48% for whites, 31% for blacks, 24% for American Indians, 21% for Hispanics. Some 44% of North Carolina’s public school students are black, Hispanic or American Indian.
Further, 50% of North Carolina children live in a household where no parent has earned a degree, she said, and 62% of Hispanic students live in a household where the parents have a high school diploma or less.
While Hispanics have the lowest attainment rate, Tippett said, that should increase as second-generation, American-born students make their way through the education system.
PETER HANS, President of the NC Community College System, picked up on the demographic picture Tippett painted, saying the higher-education “maze” is too complex and confusing.
“The bottom line … is that higher education must deliver more credentials of better quality to a growingly diverse population,” Hans said.
Institutions must reach more underserved and nontraditional students, he said, “Yet these are the very populations that have the least experience with and need support navigating the higher education bureaucracy.”
Hans highlighted ways to keep higher education affordable, ranging from a tuition-free program at Richmond Community College to Finish Line Grants backed by Gov. Roy Cooper that will provide community-college students as much as $1,000 to cope with emergency child care or car repairs.
Colleges can simplify pathways to credentials with “maps” that lead to a degree, he said.
Higher education can also align itself better with its partners, Hans said – colleges can listen to employers to make sure training is consistent with workforce needs.
The state also needs more than the 64 community-college “career coaches” currently embedded in high schools across the state to inform students about career opportunities, he said.
State universities have also developed co-admission agreements with community colleges. “It’s certainly not perfect,” Hans said. “It’s improving.”
Hans and other speakers also emphasized the continuing importance of teaching soft skills such as communications and working in groups.
While technical know-how is important, Hans said, “That means little if employees don’t have the people skills and the moral foundation to do their jobs.”
The state needs a greater sense of urgency to educate its workforce, he said. With 750,000 community-college students across the state, “I don’t think we have the luxury of time for a few pilots with a dozen students.”
“If North Carolina ever reaches its full potential… it will only be because the community colleges are more than an afterthought,” Hans said. “They should be at the very center of our strategy for addressing these challenges.
“They deserve our support, our resources and our focus – because our state’s future depends on it.”
Photo courtesy of NC Chamber