The Pulse

Dream big: NC legislators, DPI push career plan mandate to address skills gap, workforce readiness

By: - March 21, 2023 11:08 am
students on laptops in a classroom

The Biden administration says the U.S. House Republican budget proposal would have a devastating impact on funding for education. Photo: Getty Images

‘What do you want to be when you grow-up?’

It’s a question that adults frequently ask children, but one to which children rarely give much serious thought.

Senator Amy Galey

North Carolina state lawmakers want to change that.

Under Senate Bill 193, all middle school and high school students enrolled in local public schools would be required to complete a career development plan.

“Just about everywhere you go, even continuing on a couple years after the pandemic, employers still struggle to find people who are willing to work and that’s for state, local government, private employers — everybody,” explained Senator Amy Galey. “The one small way that hopefully we can have a big impact on that in the long run is to encourage students to think about their careers and their futures in a meaningful and engaged way.”

Galey (R-Alamance), a primary sponsor of SB 193, said the career development plans are an initiative from Superintendent Catherine Truitt and the Department of Public Instruction to assist young people in thinking about what their future might look like.

The state has an ambitious goal of 2 million North Carolinians (ages 25-44) with a post-secondary degree or high-quality credential by 2030. But far too few of today’s students complete that level of education.

The nonprofit myFutureNC estimates that North Carolina is 31,000 individuals below where the state needs to be to achieve its goal.

Kristie VanAuken serves the Department of Public Instruction as the special assistant to state Superintendent Catherine Truitt on workforce engagement. She told members of the Senate Committee on Education last week that the state cannot wait until high school to help students make a connection to a future career.

Kristie VanAuken, special assistant to Superintendent Catherine Truitt.

Just over 12% of North Carolina’s 16-24-year-olds (one in nine) were not in school or working in 2021. An average of 9,500 students drop out of high school each year. Over half of those dropouts are persons of color.

“As we know, North Carolina was very successful in attracting businesses here and really it is on us to ensure that those students are prepared for these great jobs that are coming to our state, particularly in an environment when we know that we are in that importer of talent,” said VanAuken.

The State Board of Education would develop rules regarding the career development plans. The legislation as written specifies that any career development plan must contain:

  • a self-assessment of the student’s aptitudes, skills, values, personality, and career interests
  • an exploration of pathways for careers aligned with the student’s self-assessment with information for each career
  • an alignment of academic courses and extracurricular activities with the student’s identified career interests
  • creation of a career portfolio.

Support for the ‘career journey’ but not additional personnel 

“Every student is on a career journey, every single one of them, regardless of if that journey is going to take them through, let’s say, community college and certifications or into a four-year university or beyond,” VanAuken offered.

Sen. Jay Chaudhuri (D-Wake) praised the bill as something that was long overdue.

“As a parent of a middle schooler and a high schooler who does spend a lot of time trying to figure out their career development. I think this is great, not only for parents in our state, but also for employers,” Chaudhuri said.

Sen. Gladys Robinson

Aware of the work involved in keeping track of thousands of student assessments, Sen. Gladys Robinson (D-Guilford) asked about resources.

“We need to begin to work with our students early on so that they can begin to develop ideas,” Robinson prefaced. “My question is, will this require, or doesn’t it require additional personnel in terms of school counselors to provide these services since we’re talking about middle school? We know that we don’t have a lot of personnel.”

In Wake County, the largest school districts in the state, the student-to-school counselor ratio is 347:1. That’s above the average of 294:1 in other urban counties across the state.

“That’s not part of this bill because it’s an appropriation, so kind of saving that for the budget,” Galey responded.

Career development plans required for promotion

Sen. Galey said career exploration could be done in middle school during the special periods of the school day not devoted to core curriculum.

But by seventh grade, career development would be part of their curriculum.

The legislation spells out that students “will not be promoted from seventh grade until the plan is created, and cannot be promoted from tenth grade until the career development plan is revised.”

Local school boards would also be required to provide parents with written notice of the student’s initial career development plan along with instructions on how to access it.

Graphic: myFutureNC

The career development plans could also help spark a greater interest in earning a post-secondary degree. College enrollment remains flat or below pre-pandemic levels according to a recent report on educational attainment.

Show me the money

Sen. Natalie Murdock (D-Durham) said while she supports the intent of SB 193, the legislation should also include a component that addresses pay equity and the pay scale for specific jobs that students may be steered toward.

“Just yesterday was Pay Equity Day, where traditionally we still have huge gaps when it comes to wages that women earn compared to men,” Murdock explained. “But what I was not aware of, which is why it does relate to this legislation, it is because of the types of careers that you traditionally view of, you know, some groups going into this field versus another, and that’s a huge factor as far as having huge gaps with wages.”

Murdock’s point is a good one. It’s estimated by myFutureNC that less than two third (57%) of North Carolina’s mid-career adults earn a family-sustaining wage.

Women fall below the state average (55% ) and for Black families just 45% are earning a living wage.

With bipartisan support, SB 193 moves next to the Senate Rules committee which will hear the bill on Wednesday.


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Clayton Henkel
Clayton Henkel

Communications Coordinator Clayton Henkel manages the NC Newsline website and daily newsletter, while also producing daily audio commentaries and the weekly News and Views radio program/podcast.