Governor Cooper reduces barriers for prospective employees as state struggles to fill jobs

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Governor Roy Cooper signed an executive order on Monday that reduces the need for an academic degree for many state jobs and instead emphasizes work experience.

“You don’t necessarily need to have a degree to be great at your job and North Carolina is in need of talented people who can get things done,” Governor Cooper said in a press release. “This order makes it clear that we recognize the value of work experience and don’t want the lack of higher education to be a barrier to starting or advancing in a state career.”

This move comes as state agencies continue to struggle to recruit and retain workers.

Blake Thomas, General Counsel for the NC Office of State Human Resources, said applications for state jobs are 40% lower than before the pandemic. Currently, around 1,400 positions are open across state agencies.

“That’s a sobering statistic and what we’re doing today, that’s what the Governor’s office has directed us to do and what we’re excited about doing,” Thomas said. “We’d be doing that regardless but it heightens the need to make sure that we are pulling in every person who might be a great contributor for state jobs.”

The executive order plans to add a clarification on job postings that states experience can serve as a substitute for education. Three out of four state jobs already do not require a higher education degree or allow the experience to be a substitute.

“We know based on lived experience that will help the people apply to these jobs when they know that they’re welcome and then when they know that the doors open,” Thomas said.

In the coming months, Thomas said the state plans to reevaluate all its job postings to see if there are further ways to reduce barriers.

“It’s going to take a long time because we’ve got 1,400 classifications within state government, but we’re looking at everything with an eye of ‘Does this language in the classification still make sense today, or can we make it even more open to people?'” Thomas said.

While Monday’s executive order only targets state agencies, Cooper encourages other employers to take similar steps to reduce any unnecessary barriers to employment. This increased emphasis on experience in employers is something that Wake Technical Community College President Dr. Scott Ralls said can benefit employees and employers.

Gov. Cooper and NC business leaders grapple with attracting more people to the state’s workforce

“I think it really opens up the opportunities for hiring and for employers. It opens up the talent pool because not every fish swims in the same part of the pond,” Ralls said. “Many employers who are finding success there, they’re fishing all over the pond and finding more success in nontraditional pools.”

Wake Tech has partnered with more than 100 employers in Wake County over the years and had great success getting students hired through apprenticeships.

“A lot of times people assume that skills come as a result of degrees. But actually, for a lot of students, and particularly students at Wake Tech, they acquire skills on the way to degrees that may be through a short-term non-degree program,” Ralls said.

Ralls hopes more employers get creative in their hiring efforts and value experience.

“I think not just state government, but I think broadly more and more employers are broadening that mindset. And I think when they do, they broaden opportunity for everyone,” he said.

Through previous executive orders, Cooper has reduced other barriers to state jobs including eliminating salary history questions and criminal arrest questions.

Interested applicants can explore job openings with state agencies here.

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