The Skills Gap and a Changing Economy

Many of us don’t know the term “skills gap,” but we should; it’s one of the reasons why economic indicators in NC are such a mixed bag. 

Unemployment is down to 4.6%, which is better than the national average, and job growth is accelerating to the tune of about 7,000 additions a month. Good news, yes?

Maybe. The problem is that those gains are regional. Urban areas like Wake and Mecklenburg counties are growing like gangbusters, while job growth is leaving behind the 80% of the state that’s rural.

Enter the skills gap. North Carolina’s traditional powerhouse industries — tobacco, furniture, textiles — required “unskilled” labor. (That just means those jobs don’t usually require a technical or college degree.)

But we’ve been losing those jobs to automation and foreign competition for years, and the industries that have replaced them — healthcare and tech — require more educated workers. Those people tend to go to college in cities and then stay there, exacerbating the skills gap as the rural population withers away.

As you might have read, we’re particularly interested in this problem, because it’s connected to our healthcare costs. Fewer jobs and fewer people in rural areas also means fewer doctors to serve those areas, and it’s becoming a huge part of North Carolina’s rural healthcare shortage.

In October, The News & Observer analyzed the issue in a detailed report on the skills gap. Check it out, especially if you live in one of the many rural areas of our state.

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