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The universities in North Carolina’s Research Triangle have spent significant time advancing the region’s pipeline to employment by finding ways to better train the workforce and retain talent.
The role that higher education plays in economically developing a region was a main topic of discussion for dozens of upstate South Carolina leaders visiting the Raleigh-Durham region Thursday.
The group of business, government, education and nonprofit leaders is in the Research Triangle through Friday as part of the 2017 Intercommunity Leadership Visit organized by the Spartanburg and Greenville chambers of commerce. A primary goal of the trip is to bring back ideas to Spartanburg and Greenville that might help strengthen this area’s own growth and development.
Kathleen Brady, vice chancellor for external relations and partnerships at the University of South Carolina Upstate, said an important role of higher education institutions is making sure they deliver programming that responds to the needs of employers.
“It’s so stimulating for me as a university person to be among several tier-one universities in the Raleigh and Durham region,” Brady said. “USC Upstate is our region’s university when it comes to developing the workforce.”
With around 85 percent of USC Upstate graduates choosing to stay primarily in the Upstate, Brady said the college has to be acutely responsive to workforce needs. It’s one of the university’s No. 1 priorities, she said.
Brady was with the group that visited the campus of North Carolina State University in Raleigh on Thursday to learn more about how universities and other organizations can collaborate to grow talent as it relates to workforce development.
Leslie Rand-Pickett, director of graduate career services with the department of computer sciences at N.C. State, said the university helps connect area employers with students by developing a plan for the students based upon employers’ recruitment needs.
“Tech talent has been one of the reasons that our area has been targeted for development in the recent past, and I’ve been able to help supply some information about our graduates,” she said. “Then we certainly work to develop those students to be the talent that the employers want to hire.”
Pamela Thorpe-Young, director of external affairs at North Carolina Central University in Durham, said another important piece for universities is working with as many businesses and organizations as it can throughout the region.
“For us, it’s all about collaboration. That’s how we forge ahead,” she said. “We’re very intentional and strategic about with who we partner. We’re in the business of training the workforce.”
Thorpe-Young said the university figures out what employers are looking for in terms of talent, and then aligns students with the skills they need in order to fill those jobs.
The strategy has proven successful, as N.C. Central retains close to 80 percent of its graduates in Durham County, she said.
City and county leaders also have stepped up to the table to work with universities to prevent brain drain in the Research Triangle.
Wake County Economic Development, in partnership with the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce, Orange County Economic Development, Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, Research Triangle Foundation and the Research Triangle Regional Partnership, has begun a proactive talent initiative called Work in the Triangle. The initiative’s goal is to showcase the region as one of the top sites for talented professionals.
“Higher education and the economic development community have really done a great job of working together to identify how we can leverage our strengths, the clusters we want to grow and then the partnership opportunities for that,” said Jennifer Bosser, founder of Work in the Triangle and the senior business retention and expansion manager with the city of Raleigh. “I think that’s really been our secret sauce — we’ve really had a targeted, cluster industry strategy.”
Bosser said when a company moves to the community, Work in the Triangle provides it with information about area industries, schools, parks and quality of life, essentially marketing the region to the company and its future employees.
The city of Raleigh also is commissioning a labor study that involves a survey of employers. The study will look at a dozen different business sectors and the soft skills needed in order to fill any employment gaps, Bosser said.
Henry Giles, president of Spartanburg Community College, which has five campuses across Spartanburg, Cherokee and Union counties, said he picked up a few ideas during the visit to N.C. State on how SCC could be more proactive in terms of regional workforce development. Giles said he’s learned that partnerships are essential between businesses, industry and education.
“Sometimes we tend to operate as an island to ourselves and tend to think we know all the answers, but we don’t,” he said. “I’m very focused personally toward Spartanburg, but we should be looking more regional. We need to sell companies on (our region).”