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Director's Log

Director’s Log | February 2023

Sarah Langer Hall headshot
IEI Director Sarah Langer Hall

On Monday, Feb. 13, only a few hours after the end of the “big game,” IEI’s own dedicated team opened the doors of the NC State University McKimmon Center and officially kicked off the 2023 Emerging Issues Forum.

Nearly 500 people of different backgrounds and professions from across the state gathered to learn from and with each other at our first in-person forum since February 2020. 

This year, our goals were to raise awareness of the issue—in this case, removing barriers for those who can and want to participate in North Carolina’s labor force; give attendees the ability to share ideas and help shape a path forward; and finally, to inspire action. It was a day to nurture long-term partnerships, make new connections and consider new opportunities for action.

In an upcoming episode of the Connector, IEI Practitioner-in-Residence Philip Cooper describes how he connected staff from a community college in his region to forum speaker Carlos Otto to learn more about Lenoir Community College’s successful engagement with bilingual/bicultural students and how they can implement those methods—opening education and employment doors—for more members of their community. 

This is just one example of connections made that will lead to greater opportunities across the state. Throughout the day, new seeds of opportunity were planted that have the potential to grow into policy, programs and reforms that will not only support North Carolina’s underrepresented workforce, but also the workforce behind the workforce. It was truly an incredible and inspiring day. 

At the end of the forum, I asked the nearly 500 newly minted change agents to make a commitment to take action and connect more workers to good jobs. This ranged from following up with someone they met at the forum, to taking action on their local and regional level or to even influencing action at the state level. We’ll check in with attendees throughout the year to see what they have accomplished and will share their stories. Stay tuned!

Of course, we couldn’t ask attendees to make a commitment without committing to some tasks ourselves: 

  1. We commit to compiling the feedback we have received on the recommendations first developed by the Talent First Economics Task Force. We will release a revised set of recommendations this spring that will act as a working document, giving you a starting point for conversations in your community. The current set of recommendations and a form for submitting feedback can be found on our website. We are accepting feedback through March 13.
  2. We also commit to working with our community cohort teams to co-host regional action planning meetings in the coming months where we will initiate moving one or more recommendations forward locally with each team. We will track their progress throughout the next year and will share their journey with you.  

If you weren’t able to attend this year’s event, or if you were there but you want to revisit some of the content presented, check out the Talent First Economics section of our website where you will find presentations, a comprehensive list of local programs working to support rural, older and bilingual and bicultural workers, policy briefs on each of the five groups of underrepresented workers and more.

I want to thank the entire IEI team, our partners, sponsors, National Advisory Board members and everyone else who made the 2023 forum possible. 

At IEI, we’ve spent the last two years talking about how to create a more resilient North Carolina. Last year, we focused on achieving the goal of 2 million more North Carolinians with a degree or credential by 2030. Through Talent First Economics, we expanded on that conversation to discuss how best to connect these workers and help them successfully engage in the workforce. For the 2024 forum, we will focus on building greater financial resilience—the ability of households to financially withstand and recover from economic challenges. Mark your calendars for the 2024 Emerging Issues Forum on February 13, 2024, and keep an eye out for more information in the coming months!

It’s clear that we have a long road ahead, but I am more optimistic than ever that if we all work together, we can grow our state’s workforce and create more opportunities for more people, including among our most underrepresented North Carolinians, and that’s how we ALL win.