Community colleges creating tomorrow’s workforce

From Korey H. Coon, chair of the N.C. Commission of Workforce Development and human resources director for Caterpillar, Inc.’s Building Construction Products Division:

Economic developers will tell you workforce is always among the top three items companies consider when they expand or relocate, and the demand for skilled workers continues to be a concern for business and industry in North Carolina. Employers are struggling to fill positions in advanced manufacturing, health sciences, engineering and other STEM-related areas – jobs like surgical technologists, machine maintenance workers and electrical linemen.

It is imperative we take the steps necessary to ensure that North Carolina’s workforce is prepared to meet the needs of business and industry in our state. The Commission on Workforce Development has identified talent development as a key priority within its strategic plan by preparing workers to “succeed in the North Carolina economy and continuously improve their skills.” As chair of the Commission, as a business customer receiving services from the state’s workforce development system and as a member of the North Carolina Community Colleges Foundation, I know our community colleges take this goal very seriously and that they play a critical role in training a skilled workforce. Consider that:

• More than 800,000 students are served annually by our 58 community colleges.

• Over the past 10 years, more than 3.8 million students participated in education and training at an N.C. community college.

• In 2012, four out of every 10 workers in North Carolina were students at an N.C. community college in the last 10 years.

Given N.C. community colleges’ 50-year history of responding to industry needs, it only makes sense that North Carolina should commit resources to support the development of this much-needed talent pipeline by investing in programs and courses that result in higher-paying jobs in industries with documented need and expected growth.

Because of efficiencies created by community colleges and as Gov. Pat McCrory announced Thursday, North Carolina won’t need to find new dollars, but can re-purpose funds. This will enable community colleges to more adequately fund vital career education programs in areas such as nursing, advanced manufacturing, biotechnology and industrial maintenance.

By making this investment, North Carolina is designating these funds strategically to the highest opportunity area in the gap between the available workforce and available jobs to result in the highest possible return on investment. This will help ensure we can provide a pipeline of skilled workers to meet the needs of current and potential employers and provide increased opportunities to our citizens.

I applaud the outstanding work of our community colleges and the leadership of Gov. McCrory and others in recognizing and supporting that work.