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Idaho has set the goal of having 60 percent of our 25-34-year-old workers hold a postsecondary credential by 2020. This goal was established because studies show 6 out of 10 workers need education after high school to qualify for a job.

Unfortunately, that goal is often misunderstood to mean that 60 percent of our workers must obtain a four-year bachelor’s degree. The fact is that we need employees with all levels of postsecondary education — workforce-ready certificates and college degrees.

Even as policymakers admit we may not hit the 60 percent goal by the deadline, Idaho’s employers are crying out for workers with more education. And the talent crisis may even get worse. The Department of Labor estimates that by 2024 we will have 49,000 jobs that cannot be filled because candidates won’t have the necessary education.

Last January, Gov. Otter formed two task forces to help address this employment crisis: the Governor’s Task Force on Higher Education and the Governor’s Task Force on Workforce Development.

The first task force is focused on strengthening our higher-education system. Its recommendations are due on the governor’s desk in September.

The Workforce Development Task Force’s mission was to recommend ways to strengthen our career-technical education, or CTE. That task force gave the governor its recommendations two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, this spring Idaho Business for Education conducted a study to identify what’s working and not working in CTE and looked to other states for “best practices” that could strengthen our programs.

Here are key recommendations from the two studies:

Create more CTE programs and facilities, especially in rural areas

Incentivize local educators to help more students obtain CTE certificates

Ensure that CTE programs have enough qualified instructors

Expand work-based learning opportunities for students

A major challenge is we don’t have enough students working toward CTE certifications. It’s a classic supply-and-demand problem. There is great demand among Idaho employers for workers with CTE skills, but the candidate pool is relatively dry.

One reason is a view that CTE leads to so-called “dirty jobs” that are less attractive than those requiring a college degree. Yet, in the 21st century CTE is science, technology, math, engineering and traditional careers like welding, plumbing and diesel mechanics. Today’s CTE jobs pay well above the state average and are in plentiful supply.

Many students don’t want to attend college. Yet they don’t see CTE as a pathway. As a result, many of them get no post-high school training that will help them attain a well-paying career.

Idaho’s economy can’t grow unless we have highly-educated workers who have all levels of postsecondary education, including CTE.

It’s not college or nothing for students. Let’s ensure that they know all their options. For their sake — and Idaho’s.

Rod Gramer is president of Idaho Business for Education.

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