This strange election cycle has focused too much on personalities and too little on issues, but sooner or later we have to believe the campaigns will shift to a real discussion about issues.
Bill Clinton’s campaign guru, James Carville, had a sign on his wall that said, “The Economy Stupid,” forcing him and the campaign to remember that the number one issue on voters’ minds when they go to the polls is the economy. What was true in 1992 is true today. Voters inevitably select candidates based on which ones they perceive will benefit their pocketbooks.
America is still dealing with the aftershocks of The Great Recession. The stock market has recovered, consumer spending has increased and the number of jobs has reached pre-recession levels, creating as many as 200,000 jobs each month. North Carolina has experienced some 300,000 new jobs, however both figures are misleading.
An improved economy demands not only putting more people to work but also that those workers can earn living wages. Too many who have found work have discovered too often the jobs they can get are not high paying positions. To accomplish both goals requires a workforce better trained to fill the needs of today’s marketplace.
Industry recognized the way to improve productivity and profitability was through increased use of automation and robotics, not in hiring more people. Today’s environment reveals a huge gap between those seeking work and the skills employers require. We’re told as many as one million jobs go unfilled nationally because employers cannot find workers with the skillsets needed.
The secret to tomorrow’s better economy demands that we must retool education much as industry has retooled, both for current jobseekers as well as students in our schools.
Many of today’s workers require retraining to fill the jobs employers want to fill. Students currently in school need revamped instruction to prepare them for the changing workforce. The good news is that most students already have their hands on new technologies; they walk around with more computer power in their handhelds than was available a generation ago and they know how to use it. Smartphones and laptops provide the ability to communicate, search the Internet and download the information students need, but our schools have been too slow to transition and adapt to teaching methods suitable to this new environment.
We must also acknowledge that not every child can or even wants a four-year baccalaureate degree. North Carolina’s 58 community colleges can train both current and future workers for the job skills they need for good paying jobs, but to fulfill this role they need increased funding for instructors, curriculum and facilities.
Colleges and universities must also change. UNC President Margaret Spellings correctly says the emphasis must be on accessibility, affordability and accountability. This includes restructuring curriculums and counseling programs so students can graduate in a reasonable timeframe. The costs of an undergraduate degree must be reduced because many can’t afford college or else they go into debt. When graduates begin their work lives with the reported $25,000 of debt so many experience it hampers both the graduate and the economy.
The economy and improved education are the top two issues facing our state and nation. Both deserve honest, intelligent and relevant discussion in this election cycle.
Tom Campbell is the Executive Producer and Moderator of NC Spin.