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North Carolina’s emerging workforce key to future prosperity


By 2020, the 1.5 million young members of North Carolina’s Generation Z will make up the core of the state’s workforce and communities.

Born roughly between 1990 and 2000, these young people have grown up in a fast-moving, technology-driven, culturally diverse world. The jobs they hold will demand very different skills than those of past generations.

North Carolina leaders have begun grappling with the challenges the state will face in preparing Generation Z to meet the needs of employers and preparing employers to meet the needs of Generation Z.

Organizations such as the N.C. Community Development Initiative, Institute for Emerging Issues and N.C. Rural Economic Development Center have responded in several key ways to begin preparing young people and the state’s communities for global success and prosperity in the future.

The Institute for Emerging Issues’ 2012 Forum in February examined the challenges of and strategies for enabling Gen Z to reach its full potential. The Rural Center in November launched the New Generation Initiative, a three-year effort to transform rural communities by engaging youth. And the Initiative is in its fifth year offering its Summer Youth Leadership Program designed to engage and prepare youth across the state to be effective community leaders.

“It’s critical that we develop future leaders who truly understand the needs of their communities and the importance of building systems that work for all people, especially in communities that have fewer resources,” said Initiative Program Associate Kimberly Askew, who coordinates the youth leadership program.

“We hope that some of the young people will find a passion for community economic development through the program but the real goal is to help them become thoughtful leaders dedicated to leaving the world better than they found it,” Askew said.

Emerging Issues Forum identifies actionable strategies

The Emerging Issues Forum Feb. 6-7 featured panels, discussion groups and online collaborations designed to generate ideas for preparing Gen Z for future success.

New research findings presented at the forum revealed surprising insights into this new generation. Their top three criteria for a successful life are: being a good parent, having a good marriage and giving back to their community.

Participants debated and discussed more than 200 ways to invest in Gen Z, from rethinking teaching approaches to promoting entrepreneurship, service learning and risk-taking.

The forum has captured these ideas and compiled research, reports and strategies on its website and is encouraging communities across the state to take action.

Rural Center’s initiative builds on Gen Z’s interest in family and community

The Rural Center announced its New Generation Initiative in November, during its annual Rural Partners Forum, with the governor, lieutenant governor and more than 30 partner organizations.

Rural communities must have a population of young people to grow their local economies. Yet hundreds of young people leave their rural homes each year to attend college, join the military or take a job and never return.

The Rural Center seeks to reverse that trend by investing in and fostering new opportunities to engage rural young people as community leaders, in starting businesses and in preparing for skilled jobs in high-demand fields. More than 7,000 young people and their mentors are expected to participate over the next three years.

Initiative program seeks to develop next generation of community leaders

While the New Generation Initiative aims to help rural communities transform themselves by fully embracing the potential of their young people, the Initiative’s Summer Youth Leadership Program aims to help young people transform themselves by embracing their own potential.

The Initiative makes this annual investment in the state’s young people as part of its overall strategy to develop leaders and organizations that can create sustainable economies in all North Carolina communities.

The intensive eight-week program places rising high school seniors in high-performing organizations in their own communities. Interns learn valuable workplace and entrepreneurial skills and develop important social, communications and leadership abilities.

Cody Locklear, a 2011 program valedictorian from Robeson County, summarized his experience this way:  “At the first meeting I was shy and didn’t want to talk but as I became more confident in myself the shyness drastically went away. [Now I know] that if I look deeper into my mind there will be something good that I can contribute to my community.”

Communities focus on youth

Elsewhere across North Carolina, community organizations are offering other programs to empower their young people and teach them critical leadership and workplace skills.

Among them:

  • Elizabeth City:  River City Community Development Corp.’s Construction Trades/YouthBuild Training Program – The program provides economically disadvantaged youth, primarily high school dropouts, with education and employment skills through on-site housing construction work experience and off-site academic classes, job skills training, leadership development and supportive services.
  • Hendersonville:  Housing Assistance Corp.’s Youth Housing Ambassador’s Council, currently under development – The program will help youth gain life skills through outreach to schools and youth programs, youth volunteer recruitment, coordination of youth service events and implementation of the Henderson County Young Leader’s Program (HCYLP) Leadership Development Model.
  • Raleigh:  Passage Home’s Counselors In Training – The nine-week summer program for youth ages 13-17 focuses on leadership development and summer camp counselor training.
  • Winston-Salem:  Liberty Community Development Corp.’s Tom Davis Aviation Career Education Academy – This summer camp exposes young people to the theory of flight, aviation history and careers in aviation through hands-on experience with real-world applications for aeronautics, including the chance to fly and land a plane with assistance.

For more information on youth leadership development programs, contact Askew at (919) 835-6072 or or visit

The N.C. Community Development Initiative leads North Carolina’s collaborative community economic development effort, driving innovation, investment and action to create prosperous, sustainable communities. For more information, visit

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