Governors Discuss Attacking the Skills Gap

June 12, 2014

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory fields countless calls from companies looking to set up shop in his state. He faces the same inquiry nearly every time.

“The first question we get is, ‘do you have the talent?’” he said.  

It is a question facing the governors of every state, as they face uncertainty over whether the American population is equipped to fill the new jobs of the 21st century. 

McCrory joined Utah Gov. Gary Herbert on a panel at America’s Small Business Summit on June 11, discussing the skills gap and the results of the latest Enterprising States study from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. 

Chamber Foundation President John McKernan, a former governor of Maine, moderated the talk, which touched on a wide range of issues including value of postsecondary education and the growth of STEM jobs.

“This country’s skills gap is one of the most consequential public policy challenges we face right now,” McKernan said. “It holds back our economy when employers can’t find workers with the skills they need to run their businesses. Altogether, it threatens our growth and competiveness.”

The Enterprising States study analyzes the effectiveness of state policies, examining five areas: talent pipeline; exports and international trade, technology and entrepreneurship; business climate; infrastructure; and economic performance.  

The study shows that those states with high marks in the “talent pipeline” area also performed well in the “economic performance” category. But it also notes expected shortfalls of qualified workers in industries ranging from automotive manufacturing to computer science. 

The United States is expected to add 15 million jobs by 2020, with 65% of all jobs requiring some postsecondary education. 

“We have been granted a tremendous opportunity to develop a very prosperous middle class, but we will be short 5 million workers,” said Joel Kotkin of Praxis Strategy Group, which authored the Enterprising States study. 

Kotkin noted that even a four-year degree does not guarantee a job, as many graduates finish school without skills that employers are now seeking. 

So what to do? North Carolina and Utah are among the states tackling the problem with comprehensive strategies tied to education and workforce development.  

Gov. Gary Herbert of Utah touted his state’s “66 by 2020” plan, which seeks to ensure that two-thirds of the population has a post-secondary degree or certification. 

He said there has been a change in attitude toward two-year and technical colleges, with such schools no longer viewed as lesser alternatives to four-year universities. Technical colleges are one of the fastest growing areas of education in Utah, Herbert said. 

McCrory said there’s been a similar shift in attitude on North Carolina.  

“We have to put as much emphasis and prestige in the two-year degree or a certification,” he said. 

North Carolina has tackled the issue with the creation of NCWorks, a comprehensive workforce development initiative that will roll out this year and in 2015. The state’s community colleges will be heavily involved, with education leaders meeting with businesses in 100 counties in the first 100 days. 

See an interactive map outlining details of the Enterprising States study. 

Or download the full PDF of the study.

See also: 

Five States Tackling the Skills Gap and What They’re Doing to Beat It