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Closing the Skills Gap Starts with Early Childhood Education and Literacy

North Carolina employers are facing a growing skills gap. The jobs of today are not matching the skills of our workforce. In order to close this gap long-term, a group of North Carolina business leaders, including many Chamber Board members, are thinking strategically about efforts to develop the state’s workforce, starting with a focus on early childhood education and literacy.

We recently shared with you the Business Roundtable’s (BRT) report Why Reading Matters and What to Do About It. The report contains a number of policy recommendations for elected leaders that would help boost third-grade reading proficiency statewide upon implementation. These business leaders recognize the importance of early literacy as an indicator of achievement later in life, both in the attainment of higher education and in career success.

Being that employment is ultimately the final stop on the talent pipeline, business leaders certainly have a stake in North Carolina becoming a leader in early childhood education and literacy. As emphasized in NC Chamber executive committee member Jim Hansen’s recent op-ed in the News & Observer, Early Literacy Key to Skilled Workforce, businesses have long seen the importance of early childhood education. That’s why PNC Bank invested $350 million in its own early childhood education program. PNC’s Grow Up Great engages children during their first five years, so they are better positioned for success as they pursue their education and later, career.

Understanding the need to lay a solid learning foundation early on, the state of North Carolina has implemented measures to increase third grade reading proficiency, from the “Read to Achieve” program to the state’s number one ranked pre-k program. However, as noted in Jim Hansen’s op-ed, enrollment in the state’s pre-k program is ranked 41st nationally, signaling that there’s more to be done to improve North Carolina’s early childhood education.

We are encouraged by the BRT report and the employer engagement on this issue. We look forward to updating you on the progress of these efforts.

We would especially like to recognize the members of our Board of Directors who have lent their time and energy to the BRT:

  • Jim Goodnight, CEO, SAS
  • Venessa Harrison, president, AT&T North Carolina
  • Dale Jenkins, CEO, Medical Mutual Insurance Company of North Carolina
  • Jim Whitehurst, CEO, Red Hat, Inc.
  • Jim Hansen, regional president, Eastern Carolinas, PNC Bank
  • In addition to these Board members, leaders from several other NC Chamber member companies, including Kelly King, chairman and CEO, BB&T Corporation, Mike Lamach, CEO of Ingersoll Rand, and Tom Nelson, CEO of National Gypsum Company, also contributed their expertise to the report

Gary J. Salamido
Vice President, Government Affairs
North Carolina Chamber