Editor’s note: In North Carolina, the overall biggest concerns at tech companies are about how to recruit and retain workers, a new survey says. Vanessa Gray, communications manager at the NC Chamber, contributed the following article, which discusses four ways that North Carolina companies can expand their talent pool, even when they’re facing worker shortages and there are more job openings than unemployed workers in the Triangle and in North Carolina. 

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RALEIGH – Our nation has been grappling with an acute and pervasive talent shortage. North Carolina has proven it can attract new companies to our state, but to remain competitive, we must ensure we have the work-ready talent needed to fill the increasing influx of jobs headed to our state.

So, how can employers of all sizes engage with students and their school systems to build out more robust talent pipelines that meet their business needs now and for the future?

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That’s what the focus was during an event recently hosted by the NC Chamber, a webinar titled “Reaching Your Future Workforce” which can be viewed, in full, online.

Here, I outline three ways that companies can add to their talent pool, all of which were discussed during the webinar, hosted on October 20, 2022.

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Career training is critical to building NC’s talent pipelines

Panelists touted the benefits of career training which can include apprenticeships, technical education, customized training, and externships.

Kathryn Castelloes, apprenticeship director of the NC Community College System, discussed ApprenticeshipNC, a workforce readiness program in which the community college system works directly with employers to build talent pipelines and understand their unique talent needs.

There are parameters for funding, but small businesses can receive up to $24,000 per apprenticeship to help with expenses as wages and the cost of a job continue to rise.

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Early and direct exposure to potential career paths

Providing students direct exposure to different career paths helps better ensure their interest in a particular career.

ECU Health collaborates with Pitt County Schools, the Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce, and numerous other organizations on a Health Sciences Academy. It was designed to grow the future health care workforce and talent pipeline for eastern North Carolina. Through partnerships, students can job shadow, volunteer, and complete coursework and internship opportunities that prepare them to pursue health care careers post-graduation.

Webinar panelist Lisa Lassiter, director of workforce development for ECU Health, explained that sometimes a student’s perception of a career does not align with the reality of it. “But if they don’t see it, they won’t know it. It’s just as valuable for a student to learn what they don’t want to do as it is for them to learn what they do want to do.” She stated that these hands-on experiences ensure that students and health care employers are putting their time, money, and resources in the right place.

Costelloes added that engaging students’ families by hosting a community day or family day has been a helpful tool to expose both children and their caretakers to different career possibilities. Another example included having students visit corporate campuses and take a tour, letting them see for instance what advanced manufacturing looks like firsthand.

Other programs across North Carolina, including a recent one hosted in Johnston County, provide additional opportunities for students to learn about future workforce opportunities and to meet local and regional employers in their county.

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Relationship-building with the school systems

Building relationships with the school systems as early as elementary and middle school, is critical. Lassiter said, “Companies must be clear about their needs but also understand the school’s needs as well, so that they may find activities that best support an organization’s goals.”

Doing this leg work on the front end, will help business develop a talent pipeline to get the right students into these jobs. There are tools available to employers such as the Talent Pipeline Management (TPM) program, which helps them navigate this process. There are also tools, like ScholarPath, being piloted in North Carolina to help businesses connect directly with students.

Panelist N.C. Senator Deanna Ballard, chair of the Senate Education Committee, stated that companies of all sizes are already doing great work, but we need to start telling those stories more actively. “When companies see the ROI of this investment, it really ignites a forward-thinking approach with their talent acquisition practices.”

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Balancing short-term need with long-term strategies

Employers need talent now and panelists agreed that many solutions involve a long-term strategy.

Businesses must find a way to balance this tension. ScholarPath’s Mick Goslin recommended businesses make talent acquisition a priority across the organization. Many talent recruitment teams are incentivized for short-term wins, the current hiring.

That work must continue while leaders engage other departments, for example marketing, in the long-term talent acquisition strategy and accountability.

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