RALEIGH, N.C. — Business leaders met at the annual Education and Workforce Conference to discuss how to best build a competitive and diverse workforce for North Carolina. 

What You Need To Know

  • North Carolina business, education and state leaders gathered in Raleigh this week to discuss the state’s workforce needs

  • They focused on topics such as learning in the Age of Transformation and trends in technology and teaching

  • The goal is to improve collaboration between education and industry

 The conference encourages collaboration between educators and job creators.

But these partnerships can already be seen playing out in classrooms every day at Wake STEM Early College High School through what is called work-based learning. The curriculum supporting critical thinking and conflict resolution is designed to round out a student’s marketable skills beyond academics.

Kimberly MacDonald, career development coordinator at Wake STEM Early College High School, listens to students collaborating. (Spectrum News 1/Rachel Boyd)

“That's something we try to do, is not just develop the academics, but develop the whole person, the social-emotional side of things, which also we framework to match the career readiness side of things through opportunities like this,” Kimberly MacDonald, the career development coordinator at Wake STEM, said. 

Students in her classroom have been assigned a real-world problem that they might encounter in the workforce and are responsible for coming up with a solution they will pitch to their business partner.

“Every business that I've encountered, every industry puts a high value on these durable skills and these workforce development skills and the real-life skills,” MacDonald said. 

She said programs like this are gaining traction all over the state, which makes access to work-based learning more equitable. MacDonald said many businesses want to help students be good future employees but don’t know how — she said partnering with schools and programs like this is the answer. 

A student at Wake STEM Early College High School shares an idea with classmates. (Spectrum News 1/Rachel Boyd)

“We just have to embrace and champion different ways than the traditional classroom that we used to deliver,” MacDonald said. “I want to be able to provide our students with these opportunities because 70% of our students are first-generation college-goers.”

The Education and Workforce Conference focused on learning in the Age of Transformation and trends in technology and teaching. It featured speakers from companies including Apple, Truliant, Novo Nordisk, Google and SAS. 

“We’re excited about the future and working with our education community to keep North Carolina No. 1 for business for the third year in a row by making sure our people are the most educated and trained to take advantage of these opportunities,” Gary Salamido, the president of the N.C. Chamber, said.