The dark side of low unemployment

March 13, 2015 |

The past five years brought difficult times to many Charlotteans as unemployment shot up to double digits and all of us knew a family member, friend or neighbor impacted by job loss.

The silver lining of an unusually high unemployment rate was the fact that Charlotte could market itself as a ready-to-work mecca for employers looking for a highly-skilled workforce.

Fast-forward to 2015 and the mood is very different: our 5.1-percent local unemployment rate is making it much more difficult to attract businesses that rely on talent to drive growth. In fact, several reports (here, here and here) are already reporting that Charlotte is experiencing shortages in key sectors we’re trying to grow such as manufacturing.

This means our local economic developers will face tougher questioning from site-selectors looking to Charlotte for possible job-creation opportunities.

So where will all these highly-skilled workers come from to keep Charlotte’s job engine humming at high speed? In-migration is helping. The fact that the Charlotte region is one of the fastest-growing areas in our nation is helping us mitigate some of the reported talent shortages.

Yet, with the first of the baby boomers starting to retire, the problem will only worsen unless we take action now. We can’t control who moves to Charlotte with what skills, but we can better educate our students, parents and teachers about the skills employers need and the types of jobs our region will have over the next decade.

All too often, the skills gap is actually an interest gap. We overproduce graduates with bachelor’s or associate degrees in fields that are not in-demand, and under-produce engineering, information technology or health-related professionals.

As a nation, we also do a poor job in providing children from low-income families with a roadmap to the middle-class. We frequently assume college is the only way out and may push unprepared young people to take on student debt or into rigorous courses for which they have not been adequately prepared to handle, which leads to nearly 45 percent not completing their degrees.

So if the answer isn’t college for all, then how do we achieve the workforce employers need? We need to provide sector-based pathways that give all members of our community a roadmap to high-skill, well-paying careers.

Some individuals may opt to go straight from high school into college, but for many, their true potential as human beings may not manifest itself as quickly; therefore, some real-world work experience may help them figure out their interests. Others may not have the financial means to go to school full-time and may want to start by getting an industry-recognized credential to see if they like their chosen path without the financial burden of student debt.

The success of the pathway construct is to make it easy for individuals to move up a career ladder over time, which means giving them credit for past classes and/or experiences, or showing students how certificates can count toward a future degree.

This also requires those of us in the workforce development world to spend more time working with employers and researchers to ensure we can provide real-time information to our community – especially educators – on where the jobs will actually be when students graduate. Together, we have the opportunity to use recent workforce reform to create a dynamic system that gives every one of our neighbors an opportunity to succeed while ensuring that employers know Charlotte can continue to find and grow world-class talent.

 

 

Have you checked out our career paths in five high-growth local sectors? Learn where the jobs are locally.