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Durham Herald-Sun: Hagan Op-Ed: Finding ways to put North Carolinians back to work
Monday, February 6, 2012
Hagan at Wake Technical Community College on her North Carolina Back to Work Jobs Tour
By Sen. Kay Hagan
Herald-Sun guest columnist
We have so many great things going for us in the Triangle: our workers are the best in the world, schools such as Duke and North Carolina Central University are respected around the globe, and our business climate for entrepreneurs and innovators cannot be beat.
But despite these assets, 446,402 North Carolinians are still out of work.
Our state's unemployment crisis cannot be attributed to a single factor or cause. We know that small-business owners face a lack of access to capital. And that the tax system is complicated and outdated. Many of our innovators and entrepreneurs lack the regulatory certainty they need from the government. And far too often, businesses struggle to find workers with the skills required to meet their needs.
We need common sense, bipartisan solutions to these challenges. Unfortunately, too many in Washington use partisan politics as a cover for inaction, claiming nothing can be done until the elections in November. Well, the 446,402 North Carolinians without a job cannot wait 10 months. And I won't either.
Today, I am bringing my North Carolina Back to Work Jobs Tour to Wake Technical Community College in the Triangle. The NC Back to Work tour is taking me all across the state to speak with small-business owners, workers, veterans, manufacturers, work force development offices - anyone with ideas to help get North Carolina back to work.
I'll visit Wake Tech's Simulation & Game Development Program, which is designed to meet the training needs of the growing, thriving video game industry in the Triangle. Even though I can count on one hand the number of times I've played a video game in my life, I recognize how important the sector is to the Triangle, where there are more than 40 simulation and game companies who need skilled and qualified employees.
How did the Triangle become a video game hub? Because the industry recognizes the area as fertile ground for employees who have the skills to meet industry needs. That has a lot to do with the initiative Wake Tech took in building a program in partnership with the local gaming companies to train students for jobs that are available right now.
It's a pretty simple equation: When students graduate from Wake Tech's Simulation & Game Development Program, they know they are prepared for a job, and companies know the graduates have the skills they need.
This type of collaborative model is one key to unlocking our unemployment problem-but it's not happening enough. I hear from business owners all the time that they have trouble finding qualified employees.
With all of North Carolina's resources - especially our network of outstanding community colleges - we can't let this gap between skills and available jobs get any wider. We need our training programs to make people "job-ready" for the emerging industries of the 21st century, particularly in Durham with the Research Triangle Park and its thousands of high-tech jobs in fields from clean energy to IT to medicine. Bottom line: middle-class families shouldn't struggle to make ends meet while employers struggle to find qualified employees.
I introduced my AMERICA Works Act to encourage American industries and community colleges to make the type of connections Wake Tech made with the gaming companies in Raleigh.
My bill encourages national industries, such as machinery, manufacturing and biotechnology, to come together and agree on the skill sets companies look for in prospective employees. Then, industry can partner with community colleges and create national, industry-recognized credential programs. Such a credentialing system is a win-win for both program graduates and employers. Graduates who receive an industry-recognized credential know they have the skills needed by businesses in any state in the country. In turn, these businesses can confidently hire people with a credential, knowing they won't have to waste time and resources on training.
This is just one initiative I am working on with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in Washington and North Carolina. As I continue my North Carolina Back to Work Jobs Tour, I will gather the best ideas and initiatives from the Bull City and across the state, and give them a voice in Washington. And I will fight to move forward on bipartisan, common-sense proposals to put people back on the job right now. Our fellow 446,402 unemployed North Carolinians deserve nothing less.
Sen. Kay Hagan is a Democrat representing North Carolina in the U.S. Senate.