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Perspective | Education and business must collaborate to solve the skills gap

Collaboration has always been a core part of North Carolina’s identity — we get things done when we’re willing to work with others who share our vision and goals. Today, the challenges facing us demand collaboration and partnerships, especially when it comes to problems as pressing as the skills gap. That’s why I was energized by the conversations happening last week at the NC Chamber’s annual Education & Workforce Conference, presented by Biogen, and I look forward to future collaborations between business and education in my new role as president and CEO of the NC Chamber.

Each year, the NC Chamber polls CEOs and business leaders from across the state about the business climate. For the last few years, more than half of respondents (55% in 2019) said that education and talent supply was the most important issue or challenge facing North Carolina businesses today.

Additional sources back this up: right now, half of North Carolina’s employers need more workers to fill their open jobs. While 67% of North Carolina jobs will need a high-quality postsecondary degree by 2020, only 49% of North Carolinians today have completed that level of education. That’s a troubling gap that threatens both our state’s ability to compete and, importantly, our students’ ability to find and succeed in jobs in this ever-changing, global workforce.

In one panel, Dr. Paulette Dillard, president of Shaw University, told the audience that HBCUs should not be overlooked as a solution for workforce challenges. While North Carolina’s 10 HBCUs are well-attended and award thousands of bachelor’s degrees each year, the high school students most likely to report that they will not pursue postsecondary education or degrees are students of color. That must change.

While a four-year degree is still incredibly valuable for many individuals, many future jobs will require another form of credential. Peyton Holland, the keynote speaker at the Education & Workforce Conference and the executive director of SkillsUSA North Carolina, rightly observed that there is a serious bias against skilled trades in our country. Even as our culture promotes the four-year degree as a golden ticket to success, 41% of college graduates go into a field that does not require a degree in the area they studied, rendering students “underemployed.”

It’s this challenge that the NC Chamber Foundation is seeking to address through a number of approaches, including Talent Pipeline Management (TPM), and it’s why we’re strongly supportive of the educational attainment goal set out by the myFutureNC Commission: for 2 million North Carolinians to have a high-quality postsecondary degree or credential by 2030.

Talent Pipeline Management will be an important tool in the toolbox to help the business community and educators work together to achieve that ambitious goal. TPM is a U.S. Chamber of Commerce program that is locally implemented and employer-led. It uses supply chain principles to help business leaders develop a shared language around their workforce needs.

After training regional facilitators in the six strategies of the data-driven and nationally-tested TPM framework, we’ll deploy a community of workforce professionals back to their home areas to drive meaningful partnerships between business and education. The NC Chamber Foundation is committed to training a minimum of 125 individuals between now and 2025. Hopefully, this process will empower business leaders with the tools to develop a shared language and more effectively communicate with the educators in their areas — building upon the many great workforce programs already underway in North Carolina.

Filling the talent supply chain, reaching our state’s ambitious attainment goal, and keeping North Carolina competitive for years to come will take work from all of us: education providers, business leaders, community organizations, and more. I’m eager to continue the NC Chamber’s long history of advocacy for North Carolina’s students and job creators alike and look forward to working with many of you in the years ahead.

Gary J. Salamido

Gary J. Salamido is the president and CEO of the NC Chamber and president of the NC Chamber Foundation. With decades of experience and a proven track record representing North Carolina business interests at the N.C. General Assembly, Salamido led the Chamber’s lobbying, advocacy and political efforts before being named its chief operating officer and acting president in 2018, then president and CEO in 2019. His leadership in advancing policy at the NC Chamber has helped propel the state to the top of a number of best-in-business rankings. He resides in Raleigh, N.C. with his wife, Lisa.