Director’s Log | August 2019

“Everything seems so complex now. So big, often so frightening. Small wonder that people look for easy solutions, attempt to find answers in simple alternatives….It is difficult to see the future, to understand the present needs, to recognize, grasp and follow our mission. Difficulty, however, is no excuse for sitting still or turning back. This is not the nature of the people of North Carolina.”

–NC Governor Terry Sanford, April 8, 1963

We’re talking about something complex at our Emerging Issues Forum in Charlotte on October 15. We’re trying to see if we can identify strategies that will enable us to make meaningful progress in helping working adults move up from jobs that enable them to barely get by to jobs that will help them support their families.

There’s nothing easy about that. Of the 1.35 million adults in our state who have only a high school education, about three quarters are making less than $35,000 a year. They want and need something to change if they are going to break out of the challenges of just getting by and move into the hope of being able to support their families in the future. But some of them had really bad experiences in school the first time around. Others have child care needs, aging parents to take care of, transportation difficulties. They may not have Internet connections. They may have no discretionary income.

At the same time, our state’s businesses want and need more workers with education beyond high school to fill the jobs they are creating – by 2030 the My Future NC Commission projects we will be 400,000 adults short.

This is not a time – or an issue – where it is productive to assign blame or wring our hands. It is not a time – or an issue – that we can afford to do nothing about. It is one of those issues that Gov. Sanford would have described 56 years ago as “difficult.”

But over the past month at IEI, we’ve seen a real appetite – and insights — among the people of North Carolina to start doing the hard thing.

  • On August 14, we celebrated our first ever ReCONNECT NC Day, with groups of people across the state coming together across lines of geography, race, income and party to talk about tough, divisive issues and commit to begin talking through solutions. We traveled with Leadership North Carolina to 9 communities that week to listen to their alumni “civic conversations.”
  • Throughout the month we listened to workers and employers and nonprofit leaders in our five ReCONNECT to Economic Opportunity pioneer communities across the state as they talked about the challenges and solutions that adult workers are finding as they try to increase their education and skill levels.
  • I learned through First in Future interviews (both already aired and still to come) with Kandi Deitemeyer, president of Central Piedmont Community College, Nathan Ramsey, director of the Mountain Area Workforce Board, Laura Colson McLean, Dean of the Metropolitan College of Johnson C. Smith University, Vi Lyles, the mayor of Charlotte, M.C. Belk Pilon, the president of the John M. Belk Endowment, and Panico Peres, chair of the Centralina Workforce Board, about real world solutions that they are developing to help adult workers get the skills and education they need in jobs that will be growing in the future.

There is no excuse for “sitting still or turning back.” North Carolina is on the cusp of developing real solutions that will make a real difference to working adults, their families, our state’s businesses and our communities.  We invite you to join us October 15 to help us turn good ideas into better ones, and small scale innovations into ones that can help people across the state.

Won’t you join us there?