As if the recession didn’t do enough damage, some states are now facing a new set of challenges as things start to improve. With a 9.5% unemployment rate in January 2013—compared with a 7.9% national unemployment rate—North Carolina is now struggling through an economic recovery, unable to fill new jobs because of an unqualified workforce.
“There are jobs in North Carolina, but the problem is that the state is not preparing local students for those jobs, so companies are filling seats with people outside of our state,” says Mike Waite, chapter executive at NARI of Greater Charlotte.
Waite was one of five panelists at a recent event focused on North Carolina’s skills gap. The event was hosted by America’s Edge, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization aimed at strengthening the economy through investing in education of the nation’s youth population.
“Their focus is on early learning [age 3 to 18 years], with the belief that developing critical skills early on makes [adult] learning and achievement easier,” Waite says.
The event introduced the organization’s latest research report, “Strengthening North Carolina Businesses through Investments in Early Care and Education” to state legislators, in the hope that they will reform the state’s education system to address an estimated shortage of 46,000 workers in the coming years.
According to the report, the state of North Carolina and its businesses are facing the following challenges:
- 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.
Representing NARI on the panel, Waite discussed challenges specific to contracting, service-related industries and small business owners. “I was able to give a voice to remodelers by telling others what I hear from chapter members—it’s not only hard skills but soft skills as well, like communication and general lack of interest in the construction industry,” he says.
The event’s message urged state’s legislators, including Gov. Pat McCrory, that reform is necessary in the quality of early education, as well as a recommendation for new incentives for businesses providing valuable, real-world work experience to students.
Waite hopes the chapter’s alignment with the group will put NARI and contractors on the map. “My intent is to make NARI contractors more influential so that when it’s time to start crafting new policies or programs, that legislators will come to NARI for guidance,” Waite says.
Eventually, Waite hopes to see a revival of skilled trades programs in the state’s vocational and secondary schools this time, with a direct link to NARI members in providing instruction, program development and apprenticeships through the program.
The event was one small step in the plan of developing the skilled workforce. The Greater Charlotte chapter also has teamed with a local community college on a design competition an upcoming home show, another example of a student-mentor program that Waite would like to see across the entire state school system.
“We need to help each other,” Waite says. “The schools market our organization to the next generation, we help to educate and hire them.”