One of the greatest challenges facing North Carolina’s job creators is the growing shortage of workers with the adaptable life skills they need to thrive in modern jobs. This is the skills gap, and it impacts workers and employers in countless industries. While there are a number of ways we can start to close the skills gap and strengthen our talent pipeline, reports like “Why Reading Matters and What to Do About It” offer one solution: engaging with younger students earlier to help cultivate the essential career and life skills they’ll need to compete in tomorrow’s workforce. North Carolina’s pre-k program has already had a positive impact on literacy and student achievement throughout our state, and it was ranked the highest-quality pre-k program in the country.
But students can’t reap the rewards of a high-quality pre-k program if they can’t get in. With its large waiting list, North Carolina ranks 41st in the nation for pre-k enrollment, signaling that expanding access is still a pressing issue.
Fortunately, state lawmakers passed a new bill this month (House Bill 90) that will fully eliminate the pre-k waiting list over the next four years. HB 90 will also phase in smaller class sizes for our students, which could improve student and school achievement and help close the skills gap. With higher pre-k enrollment and smaller class sizes, teachers are better able to focus on their students’ individual needs, which correlates with greater gains in literacy. And because early-childhood reading proficiency has been shown to be an important indicator of achievement later in life, both in the attainment of higher education and in career success, improving literacy should remain one of our top education priorities.
In years to come, North Carolina’s job creators will desperately need talented workers equipped with these life skills, and making investments in early childhood education could help bolster the talent supply.
Gary J. Salamido
Vice President, Government Affairs
North Carolina Chamber