Philanthropy must help close workforce gap

Second of two parts

By Anita Brown-Graham

A plan to transform higher education to close North Carolina’s growing workforce-skills gap is the result of the kind of partnership among business, philanthropy and high education that will be critical to ensure our state’s economic well-being.

Two of the recommendations of that plan, put forth by the Business Committee on Higher Education of the Institute for Emerging Issues, impact current students in our system of higher education and address some of the most critical needs of business.

A third recommendation calls for expanding delivery options to better reach and foster lifelong learning among all populations and across all regions of the state, while the fourth and fifth recommendations call for better integrating the link between higher education and K-12 education.

The first recommendation recognizes there is no ongoing institutionalized mechanism by which potential employers can share information on changing workforce needs with higher education.

As a result, our higher education curricula have not adequately responded to the increased workforce need for so-called “soft skills,” such as the ability to think critically and analytically, communicate clearly and with diverse groups and individuals, work in teams, and behave ethically.

One could reasonably argue these skills are of even greater need in the charitable sector, and therefore the mechanism formed in response to this recommendation will benefit philanthropic organizations as well.

The second recommendation, which is closely related to the first, calls for additional ways to increase awareness among students and faculty of higher education institutions of the requirements for life-long employability.

The business committee recognized the importance of focusing efforts on minority and at-risk populations, which are critical to closing the impending workforce gap.




For information about the Business Committee on Higher Education of the Institute for Emerging Issues, or for a copy of its recommendations, please visit the institute’s website or contact Michelle Goryn by email or by phone or 919.513.0803.

Under-representation of these populations within higher education is particularly significant in the very disciplines that are in highest demand, such as science, engineering and health care.

Philanthropy must contribute to helping college students connect classroom learning to options for career advancement and social mobility.

Funders should offer more internship opportunities within their own establishments and the nonprofits they support and actively participate in speaker series and other engagement opportunities on campus.

Business leaders must similarly commit to greater engagement with students and faculty on university and community college campuses through speaker series and mentorships, and provide on-site opportunities through internships and job shadowing.

The business committee’s third recommendation calls for an expansion of delivery options to better reach and foster lifelong learning among all populations and across all regions of the state.

This means not only offering more courses online, but also exploring such mechanisms as partnerships with trade organizations to provide training in places other than a traditional campus.

For such measures to truly create new learning opportunities in our state, funders must support the development of innovative training mechanisms that are available and affordable to low-income, rural and minority populations.

The fourth recommendation recognizes the folly of any conversation about higher education that fails to address the link between higher education and K-12 education.

It calls for increased awareness about career options and job skills within the broader K-12 community, including students, parents, teachers and counselors.

The business committee was clear that outreach cannot begin in high school; it must begin in middle school or earlier.

Notably, philanthropists already fund a variety of K-12 improvement programs in North Carolina.

Many include an emphasis on career options and job skills.

Few, however, are partnerships with both business and higher education to pair professionals with students in middle school and high school to serve as role models and career counselors to these students or to otherwise advise students, parents and teachers about the significant life opportunities available through higher education.

The dearth of such programs is particularly prevalent in rural areas of our state.

The final recommendation calls for greater curricula alignment between higher education and K-12.

This will reduce the surprisingly high levels of remediation training required by many college freshmen and offer more effective and efficient education overall.

Funders of K-12 programs must use their influence to insist that the state improve efforts to identify gaps in competencies and to begin a conversation with high school teachers and administrators about how to eliminate the need for remediation upon entering higher education.

The immediate implications for philanthropic organizations of the business committee’s recommendations are two-fold.

First, it is clear that cross-sector collaborations will be critical to the transformation of higher education and the well-being of our state’s people.

Second, the symbiotic nature of our K-12 system and our higher education system is apparent today more than ever.

Before we can achieve success in higher education in North Carolina, we much succeed at aligning the efforts of both systems in a way that produces the greatest number of skilled graduates prepared to thrive in the state’s workforce throughout their lifetime.

Philanthropists must help drive this effort.

Next week: The recommendations

Part 1: Transforming higher education critical

Anita Brown-Graham is director of the Institute for Emerging Issues at N.C. State University in Raleigh, N.C., and a member of the board of trustees of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem, N.C.

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