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Education Attainment Division

Bridging the Skills Gap in Greensboro

Jessie Azrilian on Saturday, May 16, 2015 at 12:00:00 am

The Greensboro (NC) Chamber of Commerce has a big goal to raise higher education attainment in Guilford County to 51% by 2025. As part of this effort, they are focusing on adult college completion, with the goal of ensuring at least 1,500 adults return to school, of which 1,000 complete their degree by 2016. In 2014, the Chamber received a Lumina Education Attainment Award for their efforts to close the skills gap in their community through connecting students to aviation-related manufacturing and STEM skills.

Interview participant:

  • Deborah Hooper, President, Greensboro (NC) Chamber of Commerce

Awardee Spotlight

Q: Can you provide some background on how your community began to focus on education attainment and workforce development?

A: 
Employer surveys were revealing a critical skills gap in Greensboro. Local companies saying they were unable to find a workforce qualified to fill available positions juxtaposed with a high unemployment rate. The local United Way and The Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro convened key stakeholders to form the Greensboro Works Task Force (Task Force).  The Task Force addressed the intersection of workforce development, family economic success, and degree and credential attainment.  After researching potential solutions, the Task Force recommended three programs:

  • Degrees Matter!: this is a shared partnership between The Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro, Opportunity Greensboro and The United Way of Greater Greensboro whose mission is to increase the number of adults with college degrees in Greater Greensboro/High Point by engaging, connecting and supporting the 67,000+ residents who have been to college but not finished a degree.
  • National Fund for Workforce Solutions: Greensboro has been pursuing an invitation to become an official site for this unprecedented initiative of national and local funder collaboratives targeting career advancement for workers and a more skilled and stable workforce for employers. The fund provides matching dollars and technical assistance in 32 sites nationwide.  A local funders collaborative matches national funds that are re-granted to local sector-based Workforce Partnerships.
  • Family Economic Success (FES) Assessment: this is led by the local United Way. The Aspen Institute and Annie E. Casey Foundation have created frameworks that are helping communities across the country assess strengths, challenges, gaps and opportunities in the economic success of families. This assessment tool gives particular attention to improving job opportunities and building assets for families.

Q: How did your chamber become involved? 

A: The Chamber got the ball rolling in 2012 because they kept hearing that there were 1,000 “difficult to fill” jobs due to employers not finding qualified workers. That data was never sourced, and no one knew where it was coming from. The Chamber approached the local HR Management Association and Workforce Development Board to collaborate on an employer survey to assess this statistic. The problem was worse than expected: rather than 1,000 “difficult to fill” positions, the survey revealed that the actual number was 1,775 for the 136 companies that responded. The survey also revealed a critical need in the Aviation industry and Aviation-related manufacturing for workers with STEM skills.

Q: How does your chamber measure/benchmark success?

A: One goal we benchmark is raising post-secondary education attainment in Guilford County to 51% by 2025. Part of this goal is adult college completion, ensuring at least 1,500 adults to return to school, of which 1,000 complete their degree by 2016.

The chamber also regularly conducts workforce surveys in order to strengthen the workforce pipeline and continue reducing the number of “difficult to fill” jobs.

Q: How are your education/workforce development initiatives funded?

A: 
The chamber’s efforts are funded by business members through our annual fundraising campaign. The Chamber has also collaborated on a marketing initiative called Aviation Triad that is funded by six community colleges, three cities, three aerospace employers, a foundation, and the airport authority.  Aviation Triad is now in its second year raising the number of qualified applicants for available aviation jobs. The annual fundraising goal to support the Aviation Triad work is $200,000. The Chamber plans to expand the initiative through additional partnerships to reconnect the untapped talent of returning military personnel to aviation jobs. 

Q: What best practices and/or lessons learned can you share with other chamber professionals working on education reform?

A: There are many facets of education reform and workforce development.  We had to figure out which one(s), if resolved, would have the greatest impact on student success and workforce/talent development.  Best practices learned include: (1) doing the necessary groundwork to develop a coalition and collaborative environment between key stakeholders that will minimize destructive politics and help keep everyone focused on staying the course to achieve the desired results; and (2) keeping everyone informed and celebrating the progress made toward desired results so that they stay engaged.

Is your chamber leading efforts to increase the proportion of people in your community with degrees and high-equality credentials? Find out more about the Lumina Education Attainment Award program, and see if your chamber is eligible! Applications are due Friday, May 22.

Tags: Lumina, postsecondary, Workforce Development, Economic Development, education, Goal 2025, higher education

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