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Panel focuses on workforce development

March 29, 2012 - Business and education leaders gathered this week to seek solutions to one of the more vexing problems shared by schools and employers alike: How to ensure that students graduate high school with the skills demanded by an ever more competitive global economy.

The forum was sponsored by the North Carolina New Schools Project as part of its Vision 2015 strategic planning effort to help the state's schools continue to evolve as engines of creativity and invention - preparing students for success in postsecondary education, careers and life.

Lew Ebert, president of the NC Chamber and co-chairman of the forum, said the urgency to strengthen the state's workforce has never been greater. He noted that the state has lost 300,000 jobs as traditional industries have faded, but the net gain in jobs amounts only to 300 so far this decade.

"Ultimately a student-centered approach that moves at the speed of business is the best approach," Ebert said. "If you get both hands firmly on the wheel, we'll help you with the accelerator."
Members of a forum panel that will make recommendations about strategies for improving workforce development heard presentations across a spectrum of organizations and institutions engaged on that front, from the N.C. Community College System to Jobs for the Future, a Boston-based nonprofit that promotes education and workforce strategies to broaden opportunities.

Nancy Hoffman, a vice president of Jobs for the Future, said that too many teenagers grow up knowing little about work. She noted that the teenage unemployment rate in 2011 had fallen to just 26 percent - the lowest level in the period since World War II.
"Teens need help to understand the world of work," Hoffman said. "Teens get little advice. Employers in the public and private sectors must partner with schools. But it must be done much more systematically."

She cited a number of types of innovative schools - early college high schools with a career theme and New Tech high schools - that are helping students forge critical connections with the world of work, but a broader effort is needed on a larger scale.

"We don't have a system," Hoffman said.

Bill Taylor, associate vice president of the National Academy Foundation, said that North Carolina is on the cutting edge of innovation for the nation, with an "all hands on deck" approach that is remarkable.

His organization promotes career academies that emphasize college and career readiness through work-based learning.

"It is critical that our young people have real life role models from the beginning," Taylor said.

Other members of the Vision 2015 Workforce Development Panel are Co-Chairwoman Cynthia Marshall, president of AT&T North Carolina; Jeff Corbett, senior vice president for energy delivery, Progress Energy Carolinas; Billy Ray Hall, president of the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center, Andrea L. Harris, president of the N.C. Institute of Minority Economic Development; Dr. Scott Ralls, president of the N.C. Community College System; Pamela Townsend, vice president, AECOM and Steve Yost, president of North Carolina's Southeast, the regional economic development organization for the southeastern part of the state.

Other presenters were Dr. Robert Beichner, a member of the N.C. State University Physics Education R&D Group; J. Keith Crisco, N.C. Secretary of Commerce; Jo Anne Honeycutt, State Director of Career and Technical Education at the N.C. Department of Public Instruction; Maureen Little, associate vice president of economic development for the N.C. Community College System.

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