The Intersection

Closing the North Carolina Skills Gap: Enhancing Economic Growth and Strengthening Business

September 25, 2015


The key to our economic growth is our education system; a system about which I am very concerned. In North Carolina, we have a very real skills gap. In 2013, nearly 50 percent of the more than 5,000 jobs posted in the Raleigh area required STEM skills. Between 2010 and 2020, occupations in STEM are expected to grow by 24 percent. By 2018, North Carolina could face a shortage of 46,000 workers. So, the question is: Will North Carolina students be able to fill those jobs?

North Carolina’s high school graduation rate has increased to 83.8 percent, but only 46 percent of our students last year were college and career ready and only 59 percent met the University of North Carolina System’s minimum admission requirements. We are faced with an urgent need for improvement. For our students to succeed in today’s world and in the future, we must develop a world-class education system. As a stakeholder, the business community has an important role to play.

To ensure that our citizens have the skills they need in the fastest-growing fields in the state, we need to maintain a commitment to an ambitious reform agenda. Business must keep education reform at the top of the public agenda by highlighting the clear connection between education and jobs. Students must also understand the importance of a quality education and have every opportunity to succeed.

Research confirms that a highly-effective teacher is directly related to better student performance. To develop a contingent of highly-effective teachers in North Carolina, we must first attract talented young people into the teacher profession and, then, we need to recruit and retain the best of the best. Sadly, enrollment in UNC Schools of Education has declined 27 percent over the past five years.

Attracting students to our schools of education requires a teacher compensation structure that entices students to want to stay and teach in our state. Last year, teacher compensation was raised, especially for beginning teachers, but we are still not competitive with other states. In the last decade, North Carolina has ranked last nationally for raising teacher salaries ̶ we are now ranked 42nd in average teacher salary.

Furthermore, too many of our teachers are leaving the profession. In the 2013-14 school year, Wake County, the largest school district in North Carolina, saw a 41 percent increase in mid-year resignations.

As grim as these statistics are, there are improvements in the works. Recently, I chaired a special subcommittee of UNC Board of Governors to conduct an overview of the system’s 15 schools of education. After a year of research, our group proposed recommendations for improvement to the board, which passed unanimously and are now being implemented. Some of the recommendations:

  • Develop and implement rigorous clinically-based standards and programs for teacher candidates. Future teachers must be equipped not only with deeper content knowledge, but also with methods of teaching and instructional practices that lead to the highest levels of student growth and proficiency.
  • Improve support for early-career teachers by expanding statewide the N.C. New Teacher Support Program.
  • Strengthen the recruitment of prospective teacher candidates by establishing a public-private teacher scholarship program that is merit-based and targeted to attract the very best students to teach in high-need licensure areas, such as mathematics, science, middle grades and special education.
  • Develop a UNC system-wide comprehensive approach to recruit, induct and grow highly-effective principals based on the most recent research-based standards and instructional strategies.
  • Develop an Educator Quality Dashboard to monitor and measure the performance of UNC’s teacher preparation programs. This was launched recently and should be a valuable tool to drive constant improvement, transparency and accountability.

The business community is a key partner in strengthening North Carolina’s education system. If we all work together, we can drive change through collective action and reap the rewards of a growing knowledge economy. But, we will never get there without a highly-skilled teacher-leader workforce to prepare students to succeed in their careers and close North Carolina’s skills gap.

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