Economic Development in Burke: Workforce Development

This is the third editorial in which I have explained the components of BDI’s current Action plan, which can be viewed at www.burkedevinc.com/actionplan. Today we’ll focus on workforce development, which has become increasingly relevant to economic development professionals in recent years.

Workforce development was often seen as a function of other community organizations; however, due to various factors – including the increasing skills gap and a need from existing employers – many county ED offices are getting more involved in the workforce conversation.

As we discussed in October’s editorial, maintaining your existing industry base is critical to a rural county like ours. We hear at an alarming rate from our local companies that they need a better, more skilled workforce. As a community we need to ensure the next generation of workers is skilled and ready for job opportunities.

In the next few years there will be dramatic shifts in the workforce. This year millennials (born in the early 1980s to the early 2000s) become the largest generation in the American workforce.  Furthermore, what is becoming known as “Generation Z”, born from the mid 2000s to present day, will be entering the workforce soon.

Careers of these young people will look drastically different than those of the Baby Boomers or Generation X. It is cited often than millennials will work 15-20 different jobs in their lifetime and average workers currently stay at a job for only 4.4 years. Rapid change brought on by technology will require them to be lifelong learners. Education – for jobs of all kinds – will become increasingly important. In fact, by 2018, nearly two-thirds of the nation’s jobs will require some postsecondary education or training.

It is for this reason that BDI has partnered with Western Piedmont Community College, Burke County Public Schools and others to launch a Task Force aimed at creating a community focused PR campaign designed to develop a strong and healthy future workforce in Burke County.

The group will establish a five year plan that relies on data-driven strategies and is shaped by measurable goals. It will require a unified approach that includes local government, companies, workforce development entities, students and parents.

At the first task force meeting held in November the group discussed overall strategy and outlined three specific challenges:

  1. Engage the BCPS graduates who plan to stay in Burke County after high school by developing clear pathways that help them attain their goals
  2. Educate partners about what programs are already in place, which ones are working well and what needs to be done to expand successful programs
  3. Catalogue existing and future careers in Burke County to inform young people about the opportunities available and how to obtain the necessary education for those jobs and find the proper channels to share this information

The planning group will meet again in January to clarify next steps. This will be followed by an implementation phase during which a working group will outline specific goals and activities, as well as develop a budget.

This is not a situation that will be resolved overnight but it is the right time to pursue a comprehensive approach to addressing the challenge. The right leaders are in place to ensure the plan’s success and it will take many more people coming to the table to work together to develop creative solutions.

The goal is clear. We need to support the next generation of skilled employees who have the ability to adapt to new technologies and have a willingness to never stop learning. We must persevere in this goal because the future of our local businesses, our young people and our county depend on it.