During my inaugural address, I mentioned that there are two primary functions of education. As my dad used to say, the first is to exercise your brain and gain critical thinking to help with all aspects of life. And the second is to obtain the skills necessary to get a job. We cannot lose sight of either function.
One thing I hear consistently from employers throughout North Carolina is that we must ensure that job seekers have the skill set employers need. With hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians out of work today, we must work harder to match the talents and expertise of our work force with the opportunities available. I have repeatedly promoted multiple paths to success for students, including both four-year schools and vocational tracks through high schools and community colleges.
North Carolina has one of the best university systems in the country, held up as the gold standard by other states. Our state also has one of the finest community college systems in the nation. Upon graduating from a high school in North Carolina, our kids have opportunities to receive first-rate educations without having to cross our state border. Our higher education systems are great resources to help recruit companies to our state and existing businesses thrive. But we must do better.
I have visited dozens of small and large businesses over the last few years assessing the needs of North Carolina's economy. Today we have the fifth-highest unemployment rate in the country, and as your governor I wake up every day with North Carolina's economy as my No. 1 priority. It has to be our top priority, and it is my great hope that Republicans and Democrats from all areas of our state can work together to help turn our economy around.
Tom Ross, president of the UNC system, recently said this: "The economy is changing, and we've got to figure out how we prepare students to live in that world and to live in our new economy."
I'm very pleased that Ross is working with the UNC Board of Governors and other leaders in our higher education community to accomplish this critical goal. The UNC system, as well as our community colleges and other schools in our state, will find no better advocate and supporter than I. I graduated with a teaching degree and have had a passion for education throughout my career. Education will be one of the key tools to reviving and growing our economy, and together we can accomplish great things for North Carolina's future.