WCED Blog


Economic Development Summit Series: Seminar #3 Recap

Written by: Mike Hogan, Research Economist, RTI International

As part of our Economic Development Summit Series, Mike Hogan recaps his session on the Regional Skills Analysis Survey Results.

Since 2017, RTI International has worked with regional chambers in North Carolina looking to proactively gather data on industry’s outlook on the workforce, to better inform the workforce pipeline and training. This work has positioned regional economic development organizations with data to inform their programming, collaborate with workforce development, and better connect employers with talent.

In 2020, the Raleigh Chamber, Wake County Economic Development, Capital Area Workforce Development, and the City of Raleigh sought to update their data and get new insight from employers on hiring and skills needs. RTI distributed the survey through regional partners including chambers, workforce boards, universities, economic development organizations, business associations, and others.

The Cape Fear Collective and Wilmington Chamber are currently leading a parallel effort in the Cape Fear region.

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, this work quickly took on a different meaning. We launched the survey in March of 2020, and quickly had to pivot as social distancing and stay-at-home orders became part of our reality. We re-framed the survey as a tool to inform economic recovery and gave businesses more time to respond in light of the unprecedented economic changes. In data collected through a pulse survey of employers between March and June of 2020, RTI was able to get insight from 737 employers across a 14-county region, representing a mix of industries and business sizes.

Some early insights on the state of workforce, hiring, and skills include:

  • Companies still plan to grow over the next few years, but job growth will be slower than before. Of those surveyed, 7% expected to grow their workforce in the next three years, compared to nearly 74% in 2017. While life sciences, IT, and manufacturing expect to continue to grow their workforce at high rates, employers in utilities, public sector, education, restaurants, hospitality, and retail have a negative outlook on job growth, expecting slower growth than in previous years.
  • Manufacturing, health care, and IT are the sectors surveyed that expect the most job growth over the next three years, with continuing demand for positions such as software programmers, nurses, and front-line production workers.
  • Companies are more frequently looking to alternatives to four-year College degrees as credentials for hiring. While in the past four-year degrees were the most common (49% of companies in 2017), professional certifications and community college degrees were the most frequently cited credentials for hiring in 2020.
  • Employers continue to have a positive evaluation of the regional talent pipeline, rating it on average a 3.15 out of 5. The highest ratings came from the life science and IT industries.

In addition to industry-specific skills and positions, we asked companies to discuss the soft skills they found were missing in the workforce and what types of future skills would be needed in their industry. In addition to typical soft skills including responsibility and self-discipline, taking initiative, and critical thinking, employers also mentioned the importance of adaptability, learning on the job, and empathy amid a challenging and rapidly changing economy. They cite a need for workers to have a mix of problem-solving, interpersonal, and technical skills and new demands for digital skills across industries.

Moving forward, there will be an additional challenge to help employers, jobseekers connect, and network, with friends and networks frequently cited as the most common way to source talent. Large in-person career fairs and conferences are on hold for the near future, and there will be a need to design new ways of networking and recruiting virtually, breaking down barriers for companies and jobseekers.

This analysis is preliminary and will be refined over the next few weeks as we work with regional partners to identify how to implement the findings and inform workforce programming as part of the recovery. The challenges facing the workforce in the upcoming years are complex: As of May, BLS reported over 107,000 people unemployed in the Raleigh and Durham-Chapel Hill metro areas, and our data shows that businesses are not likely to continue hiring at the same pace they did in the past.

The economic crisis because of COVID-19 is hitting workers in different sectors differently, and we will need an informed approach to help train and connect jobseekers to new job opportunities and support the region’s continued economic development.

You can still register for the Economic Development Summit Series 2020 here.

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