Chamber Chat - “Closing the skills gap”

Apr 02

By Meg Moss


In a recent publication by the North Carolina Chamber, they focused on “Closing the Skills Gap”. Finding talent is increasingly competitive in every industry. And employers are asking the question: How are we going to find, train and retain workers? Employers are aware of the need for an effective education system starting as early as pre-K. Making sure students are prepared for the workplace is key. According to the CEO of the NC Chamber S. Lewis Ebert, “Education, talent development and talent retention are vital for a secure future, economic growth and good jobs.” He goes one to say that “North Carolina has education assets that are the envy of many other states – from our nationally recognized community college system to our top-tier public and private research universities.”


And I will add that in Lee County alone, we can boast about our high school initiative that every student graduate with something more than just a diploma. Lee County Schools and Central Carolina Community College have a great method of coordinating services to ensure all students receive the advanced education courses they want, and need. And with Lee Early College, students have the opportunity to earn both a high school diploma and an associated degree in just four years.


The NC Chamber is using the North Carolina Vision 2030 as a guide to their long-term, pro-growth strategy, supporting efforts to improve education and talent supply as one of their key focus areas.


One strategy they are using is awarding communities with a Work Ready Certified Community designation. As a statewide initiative, it is the NC Chamber that is the final accrediting body for this certification. After approximately one and a half years of work, Lee County will be receiving this certification. NC Chamber Government Affairs Manager, Meaghan Lewis will arrive in Lee County tomorrow at 9:00 am at the Civic Center to present the Work Ready Community Certification to Lee County. All businesses and individuals are invited to attend. Central Carolina Community College, Lee County Schools and the Sanford Area Growth Alliance have partnered to achieve this certification.


Just one of the requirements for the certification is that students must pass a Work Readiness exam that measures employability skills. According to an article in the NC Chamber publication, “too many students become proficient at memorization, but fall short at complex thinking.” Having employees who can work as a team and problem solve are two areas of need for employers. The Work Readiness test measures those types of skills.


There are other needs as well. In a 2016 Employer Needs Survey presented by the Director of Economic and Policy Analysis for the NC Department of Commerce, 67% of employers were looking for people with work experience, 58% needed people with technical skills, 52% were looking for people with soft skills (which can be hard to teach a person once they reach adulthood, hence the need for quality education starting as early as pre-K), 31% indicated they had trouble finding potential employees without criminal records, and 13% had trouble with potential employees passing a drug test.


Andrew Meehan, the manager of the Higher Standards coalition for the NC Chamber Foundation indicates that “no issue is more important than the struggle to find qualified employees. North Carolina must keep its academic standards high to better emphasize real-world skills like problem solving and critical thinking. A quality workforce is essential to attracting new businesses.”


Now Lee County has the Work Ready Community Certification as a tool in our economic development tool kit to help attract those new businesses. We hope to see you Monday morning (April 3rd) at the Civic Center at 9:00 am to celebrate this accomplishment. 

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