Getting the workforce up to speed

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By MAUREEN DOLAN

Staff writer

COEUR d’ALENE — Gov. Butch Otter’s decision to create an industry-driven workforce development task force couldn’t have come at a more critical time, said Tim Komberec, CEO of Empire Airlines in Hayden.

The 17-member Workforce Development Task Force began meeting earlier this year and recently released its report along with nine recommendations aimed at strengthening the partnerships between industry, education and the state to develop a robust, skilled workforce that meets employers’ needs, creates better-paying jobs and improves the economy.

Komberec, a task force member, has long been involved in Idaho’s efforts to strengthen its labor force. He has served as chair of the Idaho Workforce Development Council for the past six years.

“We have been trying for several years to get more industry involvement because there is no reason to do workforce training if you don’t have employers involved,” Komberec said. “With unemployment being so low, and an extremely graying population, it becomes even more imperative that we find more effective ways to get young people into the workforce and get them trained up.”

Without effective initiatives and sustainable funding for them, the number of workers needed to fill jobs will dwindle, Komberec said. He noted that in some areas of the state, skilled worker shortages are already inhibiting economic development.

And it could get worse, according to the task force’s report.

“If an adequate workforce is not available, businesses will go elsewhere to create new, high-quality jobs, damaging every local economy,” the report said. “Without interventions, Idaho citizens with the right skills to access high-quality jobs may have to relocate to other states. The result will be local economies that suffer from a lack of high-paying jobs, loss of workers and corresponding decrease in the vitality of the community.”

Increasing the role and responsibility of the Workforce Development Council in creating a statewide worker development strategy and establishing a reliable, consistent funding mechanism for the associated programs are just two of the task force’s recommendations.

Marie Price, another task force member and director of workforce training and community education at North Idaho College’s Workforce Training Center in Post Falls, acknowledged the state has resources in place for workforce development, but they need to find better ways to deploy those resources.

Price said following the task force’s recommendation to increase support for the state’s six Workforce Training Centers would help meet the growing need for short-term training.

Price noted Idaho has the fastest job-growth rate in the nation. Labor department reports say this will be a continuing trend well into the next decade.

“We’re growing jobs, but who’s available to fill these new jobs?” Price said.

She said 90 percent of the workers for these new jobs will be age 25 or older — and at that age, with families and other commitments, it’s often not possible for people to go to school full time.

“Workforce training really fills that gap,” Price said.

By providing job-focused training in shorter chunks, workers can access higher skills and better pay.

The task force also looked at the financial barrier, Price said. There is no federal aid for this type of short-term skills training.

“Sometimes $500 will make all the difference in the world for somebody who can then get to the next rung on the ladder for their career,” Price said.

For example, she said they are providing additional certifications for certified nursing assistants. These credentials can increase a CNA’s pay from $9 per hour to $14 per hour.

Another task force recommendation calls for incentivized workplace skills assessments for students.

Both Price and Komberec said employers frequently complain that young people don’t know how to show up for work on time, they don’t have business communication skills, and they don’t know how to dress for success.

To encourage education systems to teach these workplace readiness skills, often called “soft skills,” Price said Idaho could initiate a program similar to one now in place in Colorado. Schools, programs or school districts in Colorado receive $1,000 for each student who passes a workplace skills assessment.

The Task Force also recommends enhancing career advising for students, increasing efforts to connect education to careers and continued development of apprenticeship programs and career and technical education programs overall.

“The mechanisms created to execute an industry-driven workforce development system must be agile, adaptive and subject to a stable funding commitment,” said the report.

To read the complete report, visit bit.ly/2u1GWaU.

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