As rumors continue to swirl on Jones Street about a deal reached Friday night on the FY2015-2017 budget (details to be released Monday), investments in North Carolina’s community colleges and workforce development programs remain an area of critical concern. These programs are essential for improving the skills and competitiveness of our labor force and ensuring that low-income workers have accesses to the training resources they need to achieve long-term upward mobility in their careers and lifetime earnings.

Job training and basic adult education are critical investments that give workers—especially those at the bottom of the income scale—the tools they need to enter higher-wage occupations. For many, these programs can mean the difference between a life trapped in poverty-wage jobs and a life with opportunities to climb the career ladder and enter the middle class. Career pathway programs in particular create avenues for workers to build occupation-specific skills consecutively over the course of a career, creating stepping stones for long-term advancement within that occupation.

As a result, these programs provide a powerful policy-level antidote to income inequality and wage stagnation. As the recent State of Working North Carolina report points out, wages remained largely flat in decade prior to Great Recession and then experienced significant decline in years since the recession. This is largely the result of policies that allowed corporate executives and investors to earn the lion’s share of increased productivity achieved by technological advancements.

Building skills through job training and workforce development is an important tool for returning these productivity gains to workers—both by strengthening the ability of individual workers to bargain for better wages and by improving the overall recognized skills of the state’s workforce, a key competitive advantage that will create more quality jobs in North Carolina.

Given this reality, all eyes are on the emerging final budget deal to see how legislators treat these important programs. Thus far in the budget debate, the Senate has cut more funding for these investments than the House in its proposal. In the House proposal passed earlier this summer, the Community College System received a $52 million cut compared to the $59 million cut served up by the Senate. Similarly, the House provides $15 in new money for instructional equipment at the community colleges, while the Senate provides just $5 million. And while the House provides $1.9 million for job training in economically struggling areas, the Senate does not, instead opting to invest $1.5 million to put community college “coaches” in high schools with the goal of helping high school students transition into vocational training programs upon graduation.

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A for-profit higher education company made a presentation at the N.C. legislature Wednesday, in part to make a pitch for the state to establish a central office where businesses can request help meeting their workforce needs.

Scott D’Amico of Apollo Education Group , the parent company for the University of Phoenix, said he conducted a survey of manufacturing businesses, and found that many wished they had more awareness of what the higher education system can do to help train future workers.

D’Amico said he surveyed the companies on behalf of the N.C. Chamber of Commerce, as a way of gauging the needs of North Carolina’s business community.

Though there are many groups in the state that work on issues surrounding training future workers with needed skill sets, many employers are often unaware of those efforts, D’Amico said.

“The manufacturers don’t always hear about this,” he said. “There were a lot of disjointed efforts”

D’Amico’s 12-page presentation (click here to view) at the Senate Workforce and Economic Development committee meeting was met with some skepticism by lawmakers, several of whom pointed out that the state’s community college system and commerce department already work closely with employers.

“Do you not do the same things our community colleges do?,” asked state Sen. Jerry Tillman, an Archdale Republican and an influential member on education issues. “I would hope and expect our chamber would be just as anxious to work with our community colleges.” Read More


The North Carolina Senate Workforce and Economic Development Committee has scheduled a meeting for this Wednesday at noon and here is the official description of the agenda:

“Presentation from the NC Chamber and the University of Phoenix about the workforce needs of manufacturing companies around the state.”

You got that? In a state that is home to some of the best public universities and community colleges in the nation (not to mention several expert homegrown workforce and economic development experts), the North Carolina Senate will discuss the workforce needs of the state with a far right, ALEC-inspired anti-tax lobby group and a controversial for-profit, online college.

Next up (at the risk of giving these folks ideas): The Senate Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources Committee discussing the future of the state’s air, land and water with lobbyists for Koch Industries.


Jobs ImageAs state lawmakers continue to go about the business of overhauling important aspects of state government “on the fly” with complex, last-minute proposals that receive only superficial review in kangaroo committee meetings — see, for example, the Senate’s latest mad effort to privatize the state’s Medicaid system in the waning days of the 2014 session — here’s something new and unusual: an actual thorough and thoughtful report on a critically important and under-reported subject that’s not just a collection of soundbites.

The report, not surprisingly, comes from the good folks at the N.C Budget and Tax Center and it deals with the unsexy but vital subject of how North Carolina rebuilds its middle class. The central finding: We ain’t gonna’ succeed by trying to do it on the cheap and/or relying upon race-to-the-bottom tax cuts and low-wage jobs. This is from the release that accompanied the report this morning: Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

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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