Over the past two months, the Land of Sky Region in the mountains of North Carolina has become involved in an exciting state initiative (myFutureNC) that has the potential for helping shape the future of our region. We are busy creating a coalition of local leaders to better align educational outcomes with future economic needs, and our efforts have been identified as a pilot project for the state initiative.
North Carolina is experiencing explosive growth in diversity, size, and economic activity, yet we have a significant skills gap that’s putting our state at risk. Employers across all 100 counties are struggling to fill job vacancies, citing lack of technical skills and education as the primary reasons they’re unable to hire. Furthermore, less than half our current workforce between the ages of 25 to 44 has a postsecondary degree or certificate. More than 80% of high school graduates are not ready for college based on state standards. Finally, we have an equity issue in that far fewer students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds are earning postsecondary credentials than those students with greater economic stability.
Earlier this year, myFutureNC set forth an important call to action and an aggressive goal to ensure that two million 25- to 44-year-olds have earned a high-quality postsecondary degree or credential by 2030. Achieving the two million number would mean bridging an expected 400,000-worker shortfall between our current workforce trajectory and projected workforce needs. If achieved, it would make North Carolina a national leader in postsecondary attainment.
Since February, myFutureNC has been hard at work educating key stakeholders and leaders on the initiative’s goals so the entire state is aligned and working toward the same outcomes. The effort has made significant strides by gaining the full endorsement of many critical groups, including the NC Independent Colleges and Universities, the State Board of Education, the UNC Board of Governors, State Board of Community Colleges, NC Chamber of Commerce, and NC Works Commission. Further, the General Assembly passed with tremendous bipartisan endorsement a bill in support of myFutureNC and our “2 Million by 2030” goal, which was signed into law by Gov. Roy Cooper on June 27.
To sustain the momentum and work toward these goals, leaders of the initiative have made the decision to evolve the myFutureNC Commission into a nonprofit organization with three key responsibilities that will help North Carolina reach its attainment goal. This new organization will:
- Create the space for business and education leaders to continue to collaborate and align strategies, since no sector on its own can meet the goal. In addition, the Commission is seeking ways to coordinate with regional efforts that have been underway for many years to increase attainment.
- Continue to broaden and deepen the public’s understanding and awareness of “2 Million by 2030,” why that is the goal, and what it will take to achieve it.
- Track our state’s progress towards the goals and indicators developed in the myFutureNC call to action.
Already, we are incredibly proud of the catalytic effect myFutureNC and the goal has had in local communities. In our region, Land of Sky — which is located in the mountains of Western North Carolina and includes Madison, Buncombe, Transylvania, and Henderson counties — leaders recognized the need to fill high-skill, high-paying jobs. We are fully supportive of myFutureNC and the postsecondary attainment goal and have begun to organize education and business leaders to ensure our four counties do their part to meet “2 Million by 2030.” Our area’s institutions of higher education, K-12 systems, and economic developers have expressed support for the initiative, and we are currently spearheading an educational attainment pilot project that is intended to become a model for the state. Our plan, through input from diverse stakeholders, is to “future proof” our region by strategically aligning educational outcomes with the needs of local employers. To this end, we will be creating a specific action plan that addresses educational attainment requirements and workforce needs, assesses the pilot project process, and confirms a set of metrics to monitor our success.
But our region is not alone in coming together to close the attainment gap. At the North Carolina Chamber’s Education Conference a few weeks ago, we learned about local successes across the state to drive change in educational attainment. Specifically, in Catawba County, a collaborative organization called K-64 is working to align industry and education — and has already seen early indicators of success. In Craven, Jones, Lenoir, and Wayne counties, an initiative known as STEM East is doing similar work to ensure students are engaging in real-world learning programs that align with career opportunities in Eastern North Carolina. Moving forward, myFutureNC plans to learn from these initiatives, in addition to the work of Land of Sky, to better understand how local regions are affecting change that will dramatically increase postsecondary attainment. In so doing, we intend to amplify those lessons learned and bring them to more communities across the state.
No longer is North Carolina turning a blind eye to the growing skills gap that’s impacting businesses, rural, and urban economies and the lives of its residents. Instead, they’re leading the way by setting an aggressive goal to ensure North Carolina remains competitive in today’s global economy. Working to ensure all North Carolinians — regardless of where they live — have access to high-quality, relevant educational opportunities will shape the future of the state’s economy, quality of life, and much more. Thanks to myFutureNC and all its supporters, the future of North Carolina is bright.