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Perspective | Regional skills analysis replicated in the Cape Fear region

In the fall of 2019, Cape Fear Collective (CFC) and the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce partnered with Wake County Economic Development (a program of the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce), Capital Area Workforce Development Board, and the City of Raleigh to bring their regional skills assessment to the Cape Fear region. In March 2020, Cape Fear Talent launched with RTI International facilitating the data collection.

Replicating the 2017 implementation of the Triangle Talent report and Western North Carolina’s efforts in 2018, CFC and the Wilmington Chamber collaborated with over 50 regional organizations to promote the survey. Partners included local chambers of commerce, state and local trade associations, economic development organizations, and media outlets.

Employers indicate hiring and skill needs

Collectively we were able to generate almost 500 survey responses from employers tallying their most critical jobs and skills needed over the next three years. The responses provided the first real-time data on how employers planned to respond to the pandemic.

Even amidst the pandemic, employers surveyed projected job growth anywhere from 9,600 to 17,500 jobs added to the regional economy over the next three years. Companies in life science, IT and software, and logistics have the most optimistic outlook on hiring in the future, with employers in health care projecting the most hires in the next three years.

Coordinated response required

Although employers were optimistic about employee growth, the data indicated a general concern about sourcing talent locally. Employers’ average confidence in the regional talent pipeline was a 2.9 on a scale of one to five, leaving room for improvement.

By supporting existing efforts, building new programs with employers’ needs top of mind, and continuing to bridge the communication gap with actionable data, we can gradually improve the ability of employers to source, recruit, and retain qualified talent locally.

In response to data collected in Cape Fear Talent, Talent Pipeline Management (TPM) collaboratives have launched throughout the region across multiple sectors to address the need for talent. TPM is a set of strategies developed by the U.S. Chamber Foundation to provide employers with a means to address skills gap challenges and “help employers build scalable, sustainable pipelines of talent.”

As an exclusively employer-led and a data-driven approach, employers with a shared hiring pain point engage in demand planning, communicate required competencies and skills, analyze talent flows, build talent supply chains, and engage in continuous improvement. Two such employer collaboratives have kicked off locally in the IT and software and construction and skilled trades industries.

The IT and software collaborative is in collaboration with Cape Fear Community College’s (CFCC) continuing education department. TPM was introduced to CFCC’s pre-existing IT Advisory Board as a strategy for employers to engage in the creation of a software development apprenticeship program.

The construction collaborative formed in direct response to the construction industry rating their confidence in the regional talent pipeline the lowest of all industries in Cape Fear Talent. CFC partnered with Carolinas Association of General Contractors (AGC) to convene general contractors in the region to launch TPM.

One program already gearing up in the Cape Fear region prior to the Cape Fear Talent survey, District C, was reaffirmed by the survey responses. District C Cape Fear is a regional partnership between the Triangle-based nonprofit District C and CFC. District C utilizes trained coaches to provide students with an experience solving real-world, complex problems in diverse teams for a local business, nonprofit, or community-based issue.

Across industries surveyed in Cape Fear Talent, the need for effective communication, critical thinking, and problem solving were consistently rated as important for hiring. By providing this experience to students throughout the education pipeline, District C is preparing the next generation of talent. District C Cape Fear is actively building a network of trained coaches and problem providers to make available this real-world experience for students in our region.

Addressing barriers to education and employment

At CFC, we know that collecting data on the skills gap is only half the battle. We need to work with our partners in the nonprofit community to address the social determinants of education and employment if we are to meet the hiring needs of local employers. To do so, we are piloting Career Impact Bonds (CIBs) tailored to high-impact education and training programs that employers signaled to in Cape Fear Talent.

CIBs shift the paradigm for workforce development and educational attainment from donations to investments. Investors provide the initial capital that supports job training through community colleges, universities, and private or nonprofit job training organizations. Their initial investment also includes funding for a tailored support program that could include money for rent support, food, transportation, child care, etc.

Once employed, the individual begins repayment via an Income Sharing Agreement (ISA). Unlike traditional loans, ISA’s are designed to bring favorable terms to the payer with a sliding scale that determines monthly payments depending on salary. If the individual is faced with a hardship that requires them to stop working, payments are paused until the borrower can regain employment and resume payments. This structure is equitable and links repayment to actual earnings.

What’s next?

Regional partners will continue to iterate based on the data in Cape Fear Talent and additional metrics coming from the programs described above. Data will inform best practices and priority areas for future engagements.

The Cape Fear region is now the third region to implement this regional skills analysis. Working with RTI International, we can now benchmark across regions. There are also continued conversations on how to bring the regional skills analysis to other regions of the state.

Finally, we plan to replicate the survey in three years. We will build on the effort in 2020 and set a goal to engage more regional partners and elicit a stronger survey response from employers.

Meaghan Lewis

Meaghan Lewis is the director of programs at Cape Fear Collective where she works to implement CFC’s social impact investing programs in affordable housing, workforce, and small business funding. Previous to moving to Wilmington, she worked in Raleigh with the NC Chamber and Duke Energy in education and workforce policy and advocacy. She is a graduate of Appalachian State — go ‘neers!