CHARLOTTE, NC – If current education and labor market trends continue, North Carolina could face a shortage of 46,000 workers in the coming years, due largely to the gap between the jobs that require certain skills and/or post-secondary education, and the number of residents who will be prepared to fill them.
That’s a key message from Charlotte business leaders, who today released a report from America’s Edge that reveals the financial costs of the state’s “skills gap,” and highlights the abilities that employers say they need in current and future workers. To address the crisis, the business leaders are urging Governor McCrory and the North Carolina legislature to focus on three key solutions:
- Continued investments in high quality early education. The business leaders cited research on the impact of quality early education in student’s long-term academic success, and lauded Governor McCrory’s investments in high-quality early education for four-year olds by creating an additional 5,000 slots in North Carolina’s nationally recognized Pre-K program. They also urged further investments in early learning programs that serve children from birth to age three.
- Incentives for businesses to provide workplace learning opportunities so more students have opportunities to find real-world relevance for what they’re learning in class.
- Better accountability systems to ensure schools are fostering the skills that today’s businesses need in current and future workers.
Business leaders participating in the release of the America’s Edge report included Bob Morgan, President, Charlotte Chamber of Commerce; Mike Waite, Executive Director, National Association of the Remodeling Industry; Weston Andress, Regional President Western Carolina, PNC Bank; Clifton Vann, President, Livingston & Haven; and Tom Haffner, President, P.T. International Corporation.
The America’s Edge report details the proven impact of innovative high school education models in preparing students for current and future jobs, and high-quality early learning programs to give children a foundation for long-term academic achievement. The business leaders also noted that the state will not need to wait 20 years for the benefits from early learning, citing surprising new research showing that investments in quality early learning will yield an immediate economic benefit for North Carolina businesses.
“The skills gap is a glaring problem for many of our members who want to grow their businesses,” said Morgan. “The good news is that we know that investments in quality early learning and innovative high schools will narrow that gap and keep North Carolina’s economic recovery on track.”
The report details a variety of challenges to strengthening the pipeline of future workers, and highlights research on the proven impact of quality early learning and high schools that prepare students for the workforce.
Challenges for North Carolina businesses and the state:
- North Carolina has fallen to 31st in the nation in terms of per capita degrees granted in science and engineering. In 2001 the state ranked 4th in the nation.
- Only 38 percent of North Carolina workers ages 25 to 64 have at least an associate’s degree.
- 63 percent of eighth graders are below grade level in math and 74 percent are not proficient in science.
- 22 percent of high school students do not graduate on time.
Challenges to filling the jobs of today and tomorrow:
- North Carolina jobs requiring post-secondary education are expected to grow 65 percent faster than jobs for high school dropouts.
- There will be twice as many North Carolina jobs requiring post-secondary education as there are for those for workers with a high school education or less.
- 91 percent of the jobs in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) will require post-secondary education by 2018.
- Six out of 10 North Carolina employers report gaps in communications skills among job applicants, and close to half surveyed reported deficiencies in critical thinking and problem-solving abilities.
“You don’t have to be Albert Einstein to succeed in science or engineering, but you do need to think analytically and critically to do well in the jobs that are coming down the pike,” said Vann, of Livingston & Haven, which makes a wide variety of products for manufacturing facilities. “We have to find better ways to inspire and equip our kids for these opportunities for the sake of our own business and for the Charlotte economy as a whole.
Solution One: High Quality Early Learning:
- Research shows that children who participate in high quality early learning programs are better prepared to succeed in elementary school, less likely to need special education, less likely to be held back in school, and more apt to graduate from high school. (Based on long-term studies following children who participated in such programs in Michigan and Illinois, and on those who participated in the Abecedarian program in North Carolina.
- Research also shows that every $1 invested in North Carolina’s early care and education would generate $1.91 in total spending within the state, based on retail, transportation, construction and manufacturing.
“The idea that anyone can just show up at a construction site and learn on the job is a myth,” said Waite, who heads the Charlotte chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. “We need workers who can apply mathematic principles and finely honed skills to our projects and that doesn’t happen overnight. High quality early learning gives kids a foundation for long-term academic success.”
“This report’s findings are bad news for anyone who wants to see a strong banking sector in Charlotte,” said Andress, of PNC Bank. “We need people who can crunch the numbers and people who can communicate the value of all of our financial services to people from all walks of life. In short – people who can think critically and solve problems.”
Solution Two: Innovative High School Models
- New high school models that integrate rigorous academics and career-relevant instruction are having a proven impact on student achievement and workforce development. These include Career Academies that feature job shadowing, project-based learning, school-based enterprises like student-led businesses, and support services that keep kids on track for graduation.
- A Career Academies study showed students were twice as likely as non participants to be working in the computer, engineering or media technology sector eight years after graduation, and earned more and were more productive than those not in the program.
“Policy-makers need to pay close attention to the research on high-quality early learning and support innovative high school models like Career Academies,” said Haffner of P.T. International, a maker of metric and power transmission products. “It’s all about establishing a continuum that enables kids to hit the ground running and build the knowledge and experience that keeps them on track for the opportunities of today’s high-skills workplace.”