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Workforce and education Q&A with NCCCS President Peter Hans

What does NCCCS see as its biggest challenges in the next few years?

We must ensure that our students have the knowledge, skills and abilities to meet the state’s economic and workforce needs. It is projected that within the next couple of years, 67 percent of jobs in North Carolina will require postsecondary education. But as of 2015, fewer than half of prime working-age adults had a postsecondary degree, certification, license or other industry credential.

Community college students are juggling a lot. Many of them are balancing school, work, family, and their path to completing their education can be interrupted. We want to provide integrated, targeted support services to help these students be successful. Let’s connect them to transportation, health and financial aid services, both at the college and in the community, to address barriers our students face.

What are NCCCS’s plans to help expand the number of educated, high-skilled workers in our state?

We want to stimulate student interest in higher education and remove barriers to accessing it. For example, we have career coaches in high schools to help students set career goals and identify postsecondary education or training to achieve those goals. We also are developing programs in competency-based education. This approach to academic programs focuses on mastery of competencies at a personalized pace instead of time spent in a classroom. Students earn credentials by demonstrating mastery of skills.

Producing highly skilled workers also means increasing opportunities for short-term workforce training that leads to industry credentials. There are many well-paying jobs that don’t require a degree, but involve an industry certification or license. Colleges can start – and students can complete – workforce continuing education programs more quickly than traditional academic programs, enabling colleges to be even more responsive to new technologies and economic conditions.

Our top priority for this legislative session was securing additional funding for short-term workforce training. We are very appreciative that in the new state budget, the legislature is investing an additional $14.7 million in this training so we can help create more opportunities for North Carolinians.

How is NCCCS working with employers on closing the skills gap? 

We listen closely to the business community. We ask them about their challenges. Their answers center on issues such as turnover associated with the graying of the workforce, the need for employability skills, perceptions of their industries, and the need for flexible short-term training. Taking that information to heart, we are working to expand partnerships with industry associations to address skills gaps, improve the alignment of our curriculum to industry needs, and develop other solutions driven by the needs of businesses.

We also are promoting work-based learning that provides students with real-life work experiences where they can apply academic and technical skills. The state’s Registered Apprenticeship program, ApprenticeshipNC, is one of these options for work-based learning.

What partners does NCCCS work with to effect lasting change that will move the economy forward?

Community colleges are essential to moving the state’s economy forward. Ensuring that North Carolina has a well-skilled workforce has always been our mission, but we don’t do it alone. It begins in our public schools, and we’re fortunate to have strong partnerships across North Carolina promoting Career and Technical Education.  We also have partnerships with schools through Career and College Promise. More than 40,000 high school students are using this program to get a head start on college and careers.

Through the state Department of Commerce, our colleges work with the local Workforce Development Boards to identify individuals who understand that education is the key to their success. This group includes individuals who are unemployed, but just as important are those individuals who are underemployed. Changing lives is what community colleges do on a daily basis. Our 58 colleges are truly dedicated to student success, and it’s exciting to think about helping people achieve their full potential. We are the next rung up on the ladder, and I want us to help people climb to the top.

We can’t talk about partnership without mentioning our collaborations with the UNC System and the Independent Colleges and Universities. Many students are completing their first two years of college at a community college and then transferring to a four-year school to complete a bachelor’s degree. Under these agreements, the universities recognize the coursework completed at community colleges and give credit for it. The process should be affordable, accessible and seamless.

Also worth noting is our strong partnership with the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina. This partnership brings us to the table with companies that are considering calling North Carolina “home.” When companies are considering a specific location, workforce is a critical component of that decision-making process and it is our job to upgrade skills and deliver productive employees from day one.

What else would you like to address?

I want to thank Golden LEAF for consistently supporting community colleges. The foundation’s creative grant-making and regional initiatives have opened the doors of opportunity for thousands of our students. We look forward to a long and productive partnership that lifts up all of North Carolina.

Editor’s note: This perspective was originally published by the Golden LEAF Foundation. It has been posted with the author’s permission.

Jenny Tinklepaugh

Beaufort County native Jenny Tinklepaugh has served as the Communications Officer for the Golden LEAF Foundation for the past 10 years. She was born in Washington, NC, and attended Beaufort County Schools. Jenny earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English at East Carolina University. She previously worked for the Washington Daily News as an editor and advertising manager. She lives in Rocky Mount with her husband and two vivacious daughters and is a champion for rural North Carolina.