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Business and political leaders say NC must do more to create a skilled workforce by 2030

Students in between classes at Ardrey Kell High School.
Ann Doss Helms
Students in between classes at Ardrey Kell High School.

Some of North Carolina’s top leaders in business, politics, education and philanthropy gathered in Raleigh on Monday to push for a greater focus within the education system on creating a skilled labor force. They said that includes providing more young adults with credentials aligned with employer needs.

“Obtaining a quality education unlocks a world of opportunities … But a four-year degree isn’t for everyone, and it isn’t necessary for success in today’s world economy,” Senate leader Phil Berger told the gathering hosted by myFutureNC, a Raleigh-based group promoting workforce preparation.

The group came together with bipartisan support in 2019, announcing a goal of 2 million North Carolinians between the ages of 25 and 44 holding college degrees or “high-quality credentials” by 2030.

President Cecilia Holden said last year that about 1.55 million people had hit that mark — 31,000 short of where the group had hoped to be at this point.

The group announced two policy priorities for this year’s General Assembly session:

  • Mandate that every middle and high school do career planning for all students, a move endorsed by Superintendent Catherine Truitt, the Department of Public Instruction and the state Board of Education.
  • Invest more money in scholarships that let people earn short-term credentials valued by employers. That provides “immediate value for our employers, for the individuals’ earning power and the tax base of our state’s economy,” Holden said.

Big issues not discussed

From teacher pay to social issues-driven legislation like the "Parent's Bill of Rights" that's been introduced in the state Senate, schools are likely to be a focus of the legislative session once again this year. Leaders who spoke Monday didn't get into specifics on those issues, however.

Tim Moore
my Future NC
Tim Moore

Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, both Republicans, had roughly three minutes each to make opening remarks. They gave few specifics about the big education decisions ahead. The state legislature has begun its 2023 “long session,” which will set a budget and chart many policy paths for the next two years.

Moore noted that rapid developments in artificial intelligence could eliminate some of the jobs employers want to fill now.

“The thing that’s in some ways frightening, but more importantly exciting, is with the changes in technology, what does that mean for the workforce of tomorrow?” Moore said. “I think it’s very important that we as legislators be thinking about that.”

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who spoke for about 12 minutes at the end of the meeting, praised the bipartisan support for bolstering North Carolina’s skilled labor force. He also used the forum to go into more detail and push his agenda.

“From early childhood to higher education, we are facing our own workforce problems,” he said. “When you look at the number of teacher vacancies, when you look at the struggle to get people to drive buses, when you look at the fight to make sure that we have enough of our early childhood educators, what can we do?”

Cooper noted that Medicaid expansion, which he has supported for years, could make it easier for child care centers to recruit and keep staff. He said almost a quarter of the state’s early childhood workers fall into the gap between Medicaid and federal Affordable Care Act subsidies. Republican leaders have also signaled support for Medicaid expansion.

Without offering details, Cooper called for more support for K-12 teachers and principals.

“We’ve got to make sure that we invest,” he said. “Pay them and treat them like the professionals that they are.”

Neither Cooper nor the House and Senate have yet revealed teacher pay proposals for this year’s budget.

The governor briefly touched on the Leandro plan to increase education funding. The state Supreme Court, in a vote split along party lines last fall, ordered the state to spend $1.75 billion to bolster education. But the General Assembly hasn’t acted, and the November election gave Republicans a majority on the court — which some have speculated could lead to a reversal of that decision.

And Cooper issued a challenge to business and legislative leaders: “We’ve got to stop with the cutting taxes for the wealthy.”

Cooper, like several other speakers, noted that North Carolina is attracting employers who pay good salaries. He said tax cuts strip the state of resources needed to strengthen early childhood, K-12 and higher education.

“And with the challenges that we have ahead, we need to stop it. We don’t need it for economic growth and development — they are coming. They are coming in droves!” Cooper said.


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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.