N.C. Chamber launches new initiative to develop, advance state’s workforce

The program looks to serve as the bridge between the education institutions here and the businesses who need the talent.
Published: Mar. 24, 2022 at 8:24 AM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - The pandemic has led many people to re-evaluate their lives, leading some to make a change when it comes to their career. The Washington Post reports nearly a third of U.S. workers under 40 have considered changing careers during the pandemic.

This trend has shed new light on a workforce challenge many businesses in North Carolina, and across the nation, are facing: there are not enough skilled workers to meet demand. In the last year, U.S. employers have posted a record number of job openings, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The North Carolina Chamber Foundation plans to address this need with a new initiative that will advance the quantity and quality of the state’s workforce. The NC Chamber believes the states that “successfully address these issues will be best positioned for economic competitiveness.”

The initiative, called the Institute for Workforce Competitiveness, was launched just this month. The institute convenes and connects stakeholders across the state, like local chambers of commerce, workforce development partners and experts.

The Wilmington Chamber of Commerce is participating and getting involved in the conversation.

Wilmington Chamber President and CEO Natalie English said they are exchanging ideas with other local chambers, and taking a look at what programs and best practices they can duplicate here in the Wilmington area.

“They’re going to collect the best practices. We all go to school on each other — we rip off and duplicate programs from each other all the time — we call it our R&D,” English said. “That’s what we’re going to do is compile all of these best practices and then truly become a bridge between our education institutions and the businesses who need the talent.”

A big piece of this puzzle is connecting education institutions with the business community to address workforce needs.

“Our education institutions, you know, have been in existence for decades and believe it is their core mission to prepare our future workforce. If we the business community don’t tell them what we need, it’s hard for them to respond,” English said.

English said the Wilmington Chamber is even planning to meet with New Hanover County School’s Career and Technical Education group, so they can start looking at ways to develop the talent pipeline early.

“We have all these students that we, our community, are putting through our public school system and we’d like for them to, if they don’t go to college, to stay here and find a way to be successful,” English said. “If they do go to college — to come back home and be a part of our workforce here in New Hanover County. Its a lot easier to retain someone than it is to attract someone new and to move them here.”

These efforts are especially important here in Wilmington where we not only have a lot of growing companies and industries, but also more businesses looking to move here.

“In order to continue to grow jobs and deliver on the promises that we’re making to companies that are expanding and relocating here, talent has to be the priority. Otherwise, they will pick another place that’s doing it better than we are,” English said. “We have to continue to pay attention to our high growth industries.”

English said that New Hanover County leaders are currently updating their economic development strategic plan, which will help them identify Wilmington’s high-growth industries.

“New Hanover County has embarked upon the creation of an update to their economic development strategic plan that we expect will identify what are the fastest-growing industry sectors in the county and we will work alongside them to ensure we’re helping advance the development of the talent needed in those sectors,” she said.

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