As commencement celebrations approach, I’m reminded of my first job out of college. I was just starting out as a junior engineer in what would become an extended career with IBM. At the time, there were few high-tech opportunities for new grads in the Southeast. Young workers had to travel north or west to access these competitive job markets. Companies operated vertically then, developing, manufacturing, selling and servicing everything in-house compared to today’s more integrated and collaborative innovation model.
While much has changed since my early days developing computer products, the fundamental skills needed to succeed haven’t—clear communication, teamwork, ethics and integrity, to name a few. Technology has catalyzed nearly every part of our lives, but these required “soft skills” are more important than ever in today’s interconnected world.
As our state and region continue to grow, so does the demand for highly skilled workers. A recent study commissioned by Wake County Economic Development, the City of Raleigh and the Capital Area Workforce Development Board and conducted by RTI International finds that 73 percent of existing companies in the Triangle expect to grow in the next three years, creating nearly 36,000 new jobs. Software developers, programmers and engineers are cited as the positions that will be the hardest to fill. These numbers don’t account for new companies relocating to the area, heightening this demand even more.
Dr. Michael Walden, an economist at NC State University, forecasts 70,000 net new jobs across North Carolina in 2018 alone. Walden’s latest book, North Carolina Beyond the Connected Age: The Tar Heel State in 2050, looks at the economic drivers that will play a role in shaping our state in the coming decades. He suggests that, because of the acceleration of technology, shifts in the job market will occur much more rapidly than in the past.
North Carolina’s educational institutions play a critical role in equipping our students for this accelerated future workforce.
As a research-extensive land-grant institution, NC State is dedicated to excellent teaching, the creation and application of knowledge, and engagement with public and private partners. This means that NC State works to equip its students with the tools they need to solve real-world problems, and provide the state with innovation and development to support future growth. The university generates an estimated $6.5 billion in annual added income to North Carolina’s economy.
One of the catalysts for student success post-graduation is Centennial Campus, the university’s proving ground for public-private collaboration that enables real-world learning. The campus is home to more than 75 companies, government agencies and nonprofits working alongside an equal number of academic departments.
Our partners work to solve society’s big challenges, and in turn, prepare our students with skills beyond the classroom. In 2017 alone, companies on campus hired more than 300 of our students.
Every fall, global technology company LexisNexis hosts a hackathon at its Raleigh Technology Center on Centennial Campus. More than 100 NC State students compete to solve problems using advanced technologies such as data visualization, natural language algorithms and artificial intelligence programs.
Over the three-day program, student teams are mentored by LexisNexis employees to think through a problem, craft a solution and prepare a presentation for the judges.
From the annual hackathon, about 10 students are brought on as interns—LexisNexis has hired more than 50 of our graduates since arriving on campus. As part of a larger team of professionals, the student interns gain access to LexisNexis’ billions of data points, working together to reveal untapped insights, and prototyping and redesigning interfaces to improve the user experience. The projects require them to think critically and collaboratively, using cutting-edge tools and technology to create solutions.
As graduation celebrations kick off, I’m inspired by the young entrepreneurial minds that will solve the complex future challenges facing our region, state and world. Our future looks bright.
Dennis Kekas is the associate vice chancellor of partnerships and economic development at NC State University and a former IBM executive.