NC leaders push for stronger workforce development in schools to help improve state's economy

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- As North Carolina looks to grow its economy, state leaders are looking to its students as a source of opportunity.

Businesses throughout the state continue to report a shortage of qualified and competent employees. This coming at the same time only a third of North Carolina students seek additional career certification in the six years following high school graduation.

To fix these issues, North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt and NC Chamber president Gary Salamido hope to better align public education with industry needs.

The pair hosted a webinar on Wednesday discussing ways the state's education system can create a 'talent pipeline' that prepares students to enter the workforce.

Wednesday's discussion spoke to ways schools can better introduce students to various career options early on.

"We can't tell them the only way to be successful is through a four-year college," said Truitt.

Truitt said educators, parents and students need to be offered resources to achieve in all post-secondary plans whether that be college, careers or the military. She pointed to numerous schools across the state that is offering renewable energy, construction, and public safety course credits to high school students.

"We know that economic mobility rests on education and a state's ability to educate its workforce or educated students in order to be employed," Truitt said. "I believe that if we have better alignment between our K-12 system and those opportunities that are a part of the workforce that students will win."

Salamido said the state will win too.

"If we can continue to demonstrate to folks that we're a great place to invest because we have predictable high-quality individuals and education system to retrain and reeducate as their system, as their company innovates then they're gonna want to invest here," Salamido said.

However, this goal won't immediately fix workforce issues highlighted by the pandemic.

"We can't just waive a wand and ask our teachers to shift the way they teach each day," Truitt said acknowledging that a shift in mindset isn't going to be quick.

Truitt hopes the state can reassess how it is grading and evaluating its schools to add more measures that encourage districts to offer alternate career opportunities.

"I think what we're talking about is giving teachers permission to do things like real-world learning or project-based learning that they may not feel like they can do because t's not preparing students for the test," Truitt said.

Truitt suggested the state evaluate schools by measuring the number of students who are taking post-secondary courses or enrolled in dual credit programs at the community colleges. She even would like to see schools graded based on their engagement with the local business community.

Currently, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction is creating what they call "The Portrait of a Graduate,' a project that details what skills high school graduates should have.

"We're talking not just to educators and school districts, but also to employers and faith-based communities and looking at what they value in a high school graduate," Truitt said.

Truitt hopes this will then lead to discussions and change around the state's testing and accountability model.

To kick start some of these ideas, Truitt said the state plans to use $23 million of COVID-19 relief money to create a program called the career accelerator. She said it should launch this summer and will involve working with students on career plans and opportunities.

Truitt is calling 2022 'the year of the workforce." Her four workforce goals include ensuring all students engage in real-world learning activities, helping parents and students make informed career options, offering numerous post-secondary options and teaching skills to help students meet workforce expectations.

Truitt and Salamido also see a focus on the 'talent pipeline' as an opportunity to enrich rural communities.

"I think we can show them that there is hope, there is an opportunity for them and if they want to leave the community they can, but they can gain the skills, stay in their community and in many cases, some of these jobs are allowed to be remote that was not allowed to be removed before," Salamido explained.

The NC Chamber is also offering scholarships through the nationwide program called the Talent Pipeline Management Academy. So far, Salamido said the state has trained 27 people and hopes to add a handful of more this year.
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