TWIN FALLS — A task force charged with finding ways to meet the state’s demand for skilled labor wants to see more state support for workforce development, incentives for school districts to help students prepare for the workforce and more support for apprenticeship and job-training programs.
The recommendations come from the Workforce Development Task Force, a group of industry and education figures and some state lawmakers and agency staff that has been studying the issue, unveiled at a state Workforce Development Council meeting at the College of Southern Idaho on Thursday morning.
Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter created the task force in January, charging it with finding ways to meet the state’s shortage of trained workers. According to the report’s introduction, while unemployment is low and more jobs are being created, many Idahoans are underemployed due to a lack of needed skills, with the gap projected to grow to 49,000 jobs by 2024 if nothing changes.
“We know there is a gap between the number of jobs that are going to be available in the next six years ... and the number of Idahoans that are going to be available for those jobs,” said Marie Price, director of Workforce Training and Community Education at North Idaho College’s Workforce Training Center.
The report is broken into eight sections, with short- and long-term actions recommended to support each one. Many of them would require legislative action in 2018 to be implemented. It recommends increasing the role of the Workforce Development Council, hiring an executive director and other staff and charging it with implementing the task force’s recommendations. It also recommends increasing the funding for and scope of the existing Workforce Training Centers, and developing a state-funded scholarship program for them.
“I think the task force as a whole felt that the workforce training centers were an obvious success,” said David Hill, who is on the state Board of Education and who co-chaired the task force.
The report recommends relevant state agencies such as the state Board of Education and the Labor and Commerce departments work together to find ways to make Idahoans aware of available career opportunities, such as by creating a single mobile-friendly website people can visit.
“What we’re marketing is ... there are jobs, and if you have the right education and training you can connect to those jobs,” Hill said.
The task force members at Thursday’s meeting emphasized improving collaboration between educational institutions, industry groups and government agencies. Trent Clark, director of public and governmental affairs for Monsanto, said one thing industries can do is to offer more “externships,” or taking instructors to workplaces to see what they are like.
“That’s going to fall on us as industry to reach out and offer externships and be engaged and give the people who are teaching our kids the opportunity to see a modern workplace,” he said.
It recommends schools expand their career and technical education programs and strengthen their career advising programs, and that the state Legislature create incentives for schools to create workforce-readiness programs. The sooner a student can get hands-on experience with work the better, said College of Western Idaho President Bert Glandon.
“You can sit in a classroom and teach certain skill sets, but it doesn’t mean the students have adopted them and taken them to heart,” he said.
The task force also thinks apprenticeship programs are “particularly important” and need to be expanded, Hill said.
“We want to see apprenticeship programs expanded,” he said. “I know unions are a dirty word here, but unions used to do a lot of apprenticeships in the past. ... We need to find something to fill the void.”