Aligning Employer Needs and Worker Skills

Published October 3, 2014

By Tom Campbell

By Tom Campbell

Executive Producer, NC SPIN

Governor Pat McCrory sometimes says things that don’t sound the way we think he intended them. In kicking off his 100 county NCWORKS tour promoting workforce development, McCrory offhandedly stated we don’t need any more lawyers or journalists, but do need more people who can drive trucks, work on HVAC systems and have IT skills. He should have left the lawyers and certainly the journalists alone, but his point was well taken: our state must do better at aligning the skills employers need with the skillsets workers possess.

Time was a person could graduate high school, get a job in one of North Carolina’s many manufacturing plants earning good wages and retire with the same company. Those jobs and those companies are gone and will never return, one of the big factors impacting our state’s economy in recent years. We are not alone.

Nate Silver’s 538 blog says the median U.S. household income is just under $52,000 and hasn’t risen since 1988. North Carolina’s median household income fell from $51,125 in 2000 to $45,570 in 2010. When the factory closed many workers lacked the skills needed to get a comparable or better job; too many who did find jobs are underemployed, some no longer qualify as middle-income citizens. A few, no-doubt, joined the upper-income ranks but more have been reduced to lower-income status.

North Carolina’s August unemployment rate was 6.8 percent, the third month in a row it has risen. The Employment Security Commission reports there are 315,000 out of work. Even as those rates dropped over the past year we still have 14,000 fewer jobs than the 2007 pre-recession levels.

Curiously, many North Carolina employers report they have jobs to offer but cannot find the workers with the skills they need. So McCrory and Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker are on a mission with a message, our need to match employers’ needs with workers’ skills.

For too many years we’ve preached to children that if they didn’t get a college degree they couldn’t earn a good living and support a family. It is true many jobs require a baccalaureate degree but less than 30 percent of our population has that four-year degree and a large number of good paying jobs, don’t need that degree, but they do require more and better training for jobs that are available, the unfilled jobs our employers say they cannot fill. This is a theme Pat McCrory sounded as a candidate and continues today.

This workforce preparedness training can best be achieved by our state’s 58 community colleges working in conjunction with our high schools. They are located closest to employers, closest to our people and are best able to discern the skillsets demanded by employers, then provide the training needed to fill job openings.

North Carolina’s Community Colleges have not gotten the recognition or appreciation they deserve and certainly have not been sufficiently funded. At times it has seemed they want to become four-year degree-granting institutions but their best role is now and always has been in preparing people with the training and education needed to get better jobs.

The governor is meeting with business, education and civic leaders to reinforce this timely and important message to speed up our state’s economic recovery. We need better workforce preparedness.

October 3, 2014 at 11:25 am
Janette Good says: