By Dale Jenkins and Andrea Smith
North Carolina’s not just growing, it’s thriving. Ranked by Forbes as the Best State in America for Business in 2019 for the third straight year, and boasting one of the highest net migration rates in the U.S, the Tar Heel State’s future is bright.
But we’ve got work to do if we want our education system and our workforce to keep pace.
Over the last 30 years, we’ve seen blue-collar jobs vanish. Their replacements – jobs in fields like health care and finance – demand more than a high school degree.
There’s plenty of good news. Our unemployment rate consistently remains low post-recession and the demand for talent outpaces the supply. But our talent pipeline is at the tipping point.
Employers in some sectors already struggle to ﬁll vacancies, and as many as half of today’s occupations will transform signiﬁcantly in the coming years and require workers with a broader set of higher education experiences.
To get ready for these changes – and the opportunities that come with them – we must get our education system up to the task. We need strong, stable, independent leadership, with the vision to move our state forward. And we need to do the hard work of identifying our labor market needs and aligning them with our education systems.
Our state is at a crossroads. One path leads us to a North Carolina with empowered and educated individuals living within strong communities and a prosperous economy. The other is characterized by large disparities in opportunity, vitality and competitiveness. Right now, the data are stark. If we do not come together to redirect our state, we will fail to realize a future in which all North Carolinians thrive.
North Carolina’s education infrastructure is one of the strongest in the nation with an excellent public university and community college system. But the structure of our systems is inherently fragmented, lacking a natural seamless pathway from one to the other. While there are pockets of excellent work underway across the state, there is no single entity focused on the workforce continuum at the statewide level.
This creates inefficiencies in the system, that if addressed could result in more students obtaining degrees and credentials. Eliminating frictions in the systems could also result in a reduction in expenses incurred from college credits being earned but not consistently transferring between systems.
Recognizing that no one system or organization can tackle this crisis alone, North Carolina’s thought leaders in education, business, philanthropy, faith-based and non-proﬁt communities, and ex officio representatives from the North Carolina House of Representatives, Senate, and Governor’s Office, came together to form the new non-profit myFutureNC.
Over the last year and a half, research and input from experts across the state helped develop a vision—from preschool through postsecondary to the workforce—for a stronger and more competitive North Carolina. The vision begins with an ambitious goal: 2 million North Carolinians with a postsecondary credential or degree by the year 2030.
We won’t meet that goal if we don’t evaluate the systemic reasons our education system thrives or falters. We need a system with strong, stable leadership that is committed to an expansive vision of how education can power a state and its economy.
myFutureNC’s mission is to prepare our state for the future by empowering individuals, strengthening communities, and ensuring our economic viability in a global economy. State-level leadership is essential, but the work ahead is only possible with local leadership and local ownership.
The same is true for each of the stages of our education continuum – early childhood, K-12, community colleges, and our universities.
myFutureNC is committed to helping provide that. In the months ahead, the non-profit will outline plans to unite the state around its collective goal and align its different sectors to ensure students aren’t lost and our state’s needs are met.
That includes evaluating and promoting data-driven policies, funding models, processes, and governance structures that move our education systems toward achievement of our 2 million postsecondary attainment goal.
A more prosperous and equitable future lies ahead, if we can all work together to get there.
Andrea Smith is the Chief Administrative Officer at Bank of America. Dale Jenkins is the Chief Executive Officer at Curi. Together with NC Community College System President Peter Hans, they are co-chairs of myFutureNC.