2023 Emerging Issues Forum “Talent First Economics”


Monday, February 13, 2023 | Raleigh, NC


The February 2022 Emerging Issues Forum will create the space to examine a key question: How can we close the educational attainment gap and achieve the myFutureNC goal of 2 million North Carolinians with a high-quality credential or postsecondary degree by 2030? This is a critical issue to address, but it is only part of the answer to meeting the state’s economic needs. While the 2022 Forum will focus on overcoming the barriers workers face in getting the skills they need for employment, the 2023 Forum will examine the barriers that make it difficult for these workers to find employment and stay in the workplace. Workforce and economic development efforts have historically focused on employer demand; the 2023 Forum will look at what employees are looking for, and what we can do to locate, energize, equip and unleash North Carolina’s abundance of talent.


The Challenge

North Carolina’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate, which includes those who are unemployed but actively looking for work, is 3.9% (November 2021). But if you include workers who are currently underemployed or involuntarily working part-time, the percentage more than doubles to 9.5%, one of the highest rates in the South.

Most alarming is the percent of North Carolinians who have left the workforce altogether, notably women generally and especially married women and women with children under age 5; unmarried men; people with less education and people with disabilities. North Carolina’s seasonally adjusted labor force participation rate, which describes the percentage of people 16 or older who are working or actively looking for work, was down to 59.3% in November 2021 from 61.4% at the start of 2020, one of the largest drops in the South, and the recovery since then has been slower than other Southern states. Put another way, at a time when NC employers report over 382,243 job openings (November 2021), 40.7% of North Carolina’s non-civilian workers are not employed and not actively looking for work.

While there is urgency to address the workforce challenges of today, we must also address trends pointing to a shrinking workforce of tomorrow. With retiring baby boomers and fewer births– 2019 marked a 35-year low in birth rates nationally – we will need to put a premium on getting the most out of every worker we do have. Unless we can find a way to fix our workforce “supply” issue, we will struggle to deliver critical public services, fail to meet our business growth and recruitment potential, and risk losing the competitive advantage we’ve built over the last half century.


The Opportunity: Connect, Retain, Grow


Connect: Building off of what we have learned in our 2022 Forum on educational attainment, we can examine other key issues related to workforce participation. We must improve policies that reduce barriers to labor market access and, with more than a quarter (28%) of US workers leaving after the first 90 days of employment, increase worker retention through workplace culture and work supports.

The 2023 Emerging Issues Forum will center the needs of the talent pool, with deeper examination of the needs of workers who have historically, or due to the recent COVID-19 pandemic, had challenges with workforce access. Examples may include women with young children, workers of color, military veterans, those who have been justice-involved, those with disabilities, disconnected youth, those living in rural areas, individuals nearing retirement age, and bilingual/bicultural.

Retain: Once new employees join the workplace, employers will want to keep them working. To achieve this, some employers are adopting family-friendly workplace policies-- offering family-sustaining wages and benefits, predictable work hours, paid leave and sick time, supporting training opportunities, and helping to subsidize childcare, transportation, and/or housing expenses. Others tout non-salary benefits, such as flexible or reduced hours and an inclusive culture where workers from all walks of life feel welcome and valued for their contributions. Much can be learned from employers who are already figuring this out.

Grow: Still other employers are taking new steps to improve workers mobility from within their company, increasing retention by offering clear career growth opportunities and putting new emphasis on partnerships that make it easier for workers to retrain as company needs change.

The forum’s program of work will engage experts to examine the scope of the problem, highlight best and promising practices, and identify equitable policy and programmatic strategies to improve workforce participation and retention in the near and long-term.

Moving Ideas to Action

The Forum will lift up effective practices and policy supports to increase workforce participation — with a focus on workers most at risk from being excluded. IEI will also select, highlight and support the work of a cohort of five communities from across the state committed to moving the needle in improving access and retention for these workers.

Interested in becoming a forum sponsor? 

Contact IEI Development Director Tony Reevy at awreevy@ncsu.edu or 919.515.3543