Special to Iredell Free News

RALEIGH — To address North Carolina’s growing need for a skilled and competent workforce, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt on Wednesday called for new steps to ensure that all students graduate well prepared for postsecondary opportunities.

Truitt stressed during a webinar with NC Chamber President and CEO Gary Salamido that education is in service to a student’s post-secondary preparation – be it college, career, or military.

A recurring theme throughout the conversation was what can be done to drive alignment between North Carolina’s education systems and the needs of the state’s businesses and industries.

During the webinar, Truitt reiterated that North Carolina’s public schools must prioritize post-secondary success and place greater emphasis on career awareness across all grades. As the state’s economy continues to grow and the job market requires additional durable skills and educational attainment, today’s discussion centered around how students should be introduced to and experience career pathways consistently during their K-12 journey.

“The reality is that our workforce is rapidly changing here in our country and our own state, and it’s time we better equip students in our public schools for success post-graduation,” Truitt said. “New industry trends underscore the need to drive alignment between our K-12 education system and the needs of our businesses and industries.”

A strong talent pipeline not only helps sustain local economies, the Chamber says, but it also can anchor business recruitment efforts, enhancing the state’s economic competitiveness. While North Carolina was successful in attracting business investment last year amounting to a record $10.1 billion and more than 24,000 new jobs, employers can’t find all the qualified employees that they need.

That’s particularly true for tech businesses. Publicly listed information technology positions grew to more than 46,000 this past November – the highest number in recent years, according to the N.C. Technology Association. In the Triangle alone, 19,000 openings were reported, along with more than 16,000 open positions in the Charlotte metro region.

Salamido said North Carolina’s job creators, across industries, are struggling with workforce shortages and skills gaps.

“There are not enough available workers with the certifications or training matching the jobs in demand,” he said. “Responding to the needs of our business community, the NC Chamber Foundation will launch the Institute for Workforce Competitiveness to empower employers in driving and leading sustainable solutions to their talent supply challenges. Business and education alignment is essential to providing North Carolinians with rewarding careers and securing a competitive, world-class workforce statewide.”

To help develop North Carolina’s talent pipeline, while ensuring that North Carolina students are competitive candidates in the job market, Truitt wants schools to align their focus and expectations with those of current and future employers in the state.

Truitt outlined four key goals as part of the agency’s new workforce development website. These goals will help advance the state’s economy and give students a critical leg up on their future:

♦ Prepare the future workforce with the skills and experiences required to be successful, productive citizens, providing a robust talent pipeline that powers the state’s economic development efforts;

♦ Ensure that all students have access to post-secondary pathways that align with growing, high-wage careers that meet local, regional, and/or statewide industry demand for talent;

♦ Assist all students and parents in making informed plans and decisions about future education and career opportunities; and

♦ Ensure that all students engage in career exploration and real-world learning activities throughout the K-12 journey.

During the coming year, which Truitt is calling the “year of the workforce,” the Department of Public Instruction will renew its focus on post-secondary preparation for the state’s 1.5 million students with a number of concrete steps, beginning with the Portrait of a Graduate initiative.

The project aims to reach a collective vision for the state’s aspirations for all high school graduates through extensive outreach across the state with engagement from business leaders, elected officials, faith communities, parents, students, educators, and others. This “portrait” will be presented this fall to education and political leaders.

Once adopted, the “portrait” will help guide efforts in classrooms and schools to pair academic rigor with durable skills and key mindsets such as resilience, leadership, communication, and critical thinking,​ while preparing students for the post-secondary plan of their choice.

In addition, Truitt said the “portrait” will provide a critical foundation for a revised accountability approach that will better align the K-12 education system with the state’s workforce needs. In reforming the state’s school accountability system, students will be better prepared to meet the in-demand skills of the workforce.

North Carolina schools have made significant progress in recent years with programs and initiatives to better equip students for post-secondary success – from popular early college high school programs to dual enrollment to robust Career and Technical Education offerings. But a greater emphasis is needed, she said, that reaches all students.

“We really need to create a frictionless path from high school into careers and post-secondary study that gives students the best shot at success and our state the best prospects for a robust economy and attractive quality of life,” she said.

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