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Earlier this month, the North Carolina Economic Development Board released a new strategic plan for creating jobs and growing the state’s economy over the next decade. The plan listed a number of admirable and important policy goals, including supporting innovation and entrepreneurship, promoting rural prosperity, and strengthening community-level opportunities for economic revitalization.

Unfortunately, last year’s tax cuts and budget cuts have greatly undermined the state’s ability to achieve these goals going forward.

In order to accommodate the $525 million in revenues lost to last year’s tax cut package and still balance the state budget, lawmakers made deep cuts to many core investments—including long-standing state support for nonprofits engaged in economic and community development work.  In the current biennium, the portion of the state budget responsible for these important initiatives—Commerce-State Aid—was cut by $38 million, a 64 percent reduction.

And even this overall reduction masks the true damage to the state’s ability to invest in meeting the new economic development objectives laid out in the strategic plan. The real damage comes from the specific initiatives that were singled out for cuts or outright elimination.

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In all of the slashing and cutting that’s going on within this budget process, you might have missed a small but important provision to eliminate the Displaced Homemaker Program. It was in the budget adopted by the Senate last month and showed up this morning in the money report from the House Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government. Despite the admittedly outdated-sounding name, this program provides important workforce development services to a population with significant barriers to self-sufficiency.

“Displaced homemakers” have traditionally been those who have provided unpaid household services for their homes and families and can’t secure living wage employment because of a lack of training or experience. Examples of today’s displaced homemakers  include an under-employed working parent Read More

In a widely anticipated report to the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee yesterday, staff from the General Assembly’s Program Evaluation Division presented an extremely thorough and insightful analysis of the state’s workforce development system—the interconnected array of training programs critical for upgrading the state’s labor market and workers’ ability to secure employment in a skill-intensive economy.

In evaluating North Carolina’s workforce system (and with the active participation of top stakeholders in the Department of Commerce, Community College System, and the Workforce Commission), the report provides several findings on the strengths and weaknesses in the current system and makes a number of important recommendations for reforming the state’s approach to workforce development and job training. Crucially, these reforms involve the consolidation and alignment of the dozens of programs involved in workforce training and the development of statewide performance measures to ensure that programs are actually achieving their stated objectives.

Both the findings and policy recommendations represent a critical first step for modernizing workforce development in North Carolina and especially for determining the ability of the training programs to prepare workers for employment in skill-appropriate industries.

But as important as it remains to prepare workers for their first job in an industry, it is also critical that policy makers consider the role of training programs in preparing workers for their second, and third, and fourth jobs in that industry—in effect, the importance of career pathway training programs.

Career pathways are a series of connected education and training programs and student support services that enable individuals to secure a job or advance in a demand industry or occupation, creating opportunities for workers to build their skills and secure upwardly mobile career opportunities. Ultimately, more skills mean higher wages and more opportunity to achieve mobility.

As workforce development reform moves forward—likely through a new legislative oversight committee—policy makers should pursue program alignments and create performance measures that explicitly include and address career pathways.