NC Gov. Pat McCrory rolls out new effort to fight employment ‘skills gap’

The job skills North Carolina companies need and the ones the state’s workers possess don’t always match, Gov. Pat McCrory contends.

That’s why he and Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker said Thursday that state and local officials will fan out across all 100 counties in the next 100 days, asking 1,000 companies about the skills they need in new employees.

“It’s a listening tour,” Decker said during a news conference at Central Piedmont Community College. It’s “a chance for this administration to listen to employers and understand what their needs are.”

McCrory said state officials will use the feedback to fine-tune the offerings of two- and four-year colleges, as well as K-12 schools.

The effort marks his administration’s continued focus on the much-debated “skills gap” that finds the nation’s workforce unprepared to take the growing number of jobs in advanced manufacturing, engineering, science and technology fields. Companies are taking steps as well: Just this week, Siemens, the global energy company with a hub in Charlotte, said it would give $32 million worth of software to CPCC to help prepare students for careers in advanced manufacturing.

McCrory said more than 40 percent of North Carolina employers report having jobs they find hard to fill. He said the state needs more information technology, electrical engineering, accounting and finance workers, among others.

“We need to do everything we can to tie in education and adapt it to the skills gap,” he said.

He spoke after listening to Charlotte business, education and workforce training leaders talk about some of their needs during a panel discussion at CPCC.

Among the needs cited in Charlotte: more construction workers to work in the rebounding housing and commercial real estate sectors, more information technology professionals, more entrepreneurial talent, and more apprenticeship programs for advanced manufacturing operations.

CPCC President Tony Zeiss said the school is working to fill such gaps. He noted that the news conference was held in a training lab the school has set up under a partnership with Festo, a German corporation that makes robotics for factories.

CPCC and Festo early this month announced they will create a North American training center on the campus. It will teach students to operate the company’s advanced manufacturing equipment, which is used by factories across the globe.

Scott Ralls, head of the state community college system, said officials from the Department of Commerce and the community colleges will be working closely to align schooling with employers’ needs.

“Sometimes we get in our silos,” he said. “So we’re breaking down those silos.”