Growing an Idaho workforce

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  • (Photo by MARY MALONE) Idaho state Sen. Shawn Keough speaks at the What’s Happening Up North economic forum Thursday. The focus of this year’s forum was on education.

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    (Photo by MARY MALONE)Alex Gray, who is part of the Sandpoint High School career-technical education program, speaks at the What's Happening Up North economic forum Thursday. The focus of the forum was on education.

  • (Photo by MARY MALONE) Idaho state Sen. Shawn Keough speaks at the What’s Happening Up North economic forum Thursday. The focus of this year’s forum was on education.

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    (Photo by MARY MALONE)Alex Gray, who is part of the Sandpoint High School career-technical education program, speaks at the What's Happening Up North economic forum Thursday. The focus of the forum was on education.

KOOTENAI — With a theme of "Building a Smart Workforce," it is no wonder the third annual "What's Happening Up North Prospering Business in Northern Idaho" summit was focused on education.

The summit, which was held Thursday in the Sandpoint Technical Center, is staged by the Bonner County Economic Development Corporation in conjunction with Headwaters Economics, Lake Pend Oreille School District, Panhandle Alliance for Education and Idaho Department of Labor. The event featured a number of notable speakers drawn from business and government, plus panel discussions and open forums to engage attendees.

Sen. Shawn Keough was this year's keynote speaker and her talk was, as per the theme, focused on the state's priorities for education. First, she noted that of the $3,450,575,300 in the state's 2018 general fund, the "biggest piece of the pie" — yes, there was a pie chart — or 62.9 percent, is appropriated to education. Of that, about 48 or 49 percent is the K-12 system, Keough said.

The education budget includes a $62 million increase for the third year of the state's career ladder for teachers, $23 million to maintain and increase school operational funds, and $10 million for health insurance costs. There was also an increase of $5 million in the line item for classroom technologies, which is a 27-percent increase over the previous year, and a $2 million increase in college and career advising, Keough said.

After going over some of the general fund appropriations, Keough highlighted the advanced opportunities program, which allows public high school students to complete up to the first two years of community college. In the 2016-17 school year, she said, approximately 18,000 Idaho students earned 95,000 college credit hours while still in high school.

"Our number crunchers say that every $1 spent on dual credits through this program saves families $4.66," Keough said.

Career-technical education was among the topics discussed by Keough. Idaho is facing a "significant" shortage in the workforce, she said, and by 2024, the Idaho Department of Labor predicts there will be 138,000 jobs added to the state's economy. Projections also show there will be an increase of 89,000 people between ages 18 and 65 to fill those positions, leaving a workforce gap of 49,000.

"We need more bachelor's degrees and graduate college degrees, but about half of these new jobs can be filled with an associates degree, a technical degree, industry certification or apprenticeship," Keough said.

At the secondary level, Idaho has 115 districts with 640 CTE programs — 59,575 Idaho high school students are participating in those programs. The Lake Pend Oreille School District is one of those districts.

In fact, Alex Gray, Sandpoint High School's CTE department chair, spoke after Keough and found it impossible to keep his speech within the allotted 10 minutes due to the number of CTE programs at SHS and students who have found success through those programs.

Gray said the district's "modified version" of the CTE mission statement is, "To provide Lake Pend Oreille School District's youth with a wide range high-wage, high-skill, high-demand careers."

Between the district's three high schools, SHS, Clark Fork and Lake Pend Oreille, there are 11 CTE programs. Those programs include business, computer-aided design, culinary arts, forestry/natural resources management, health occupations, information systems technology, individual occupational training, journalism/multimedia, welding technology, engineering and graphic design.

"We have students who exit our programs, (such as) our drafting program, certified in SolidWorks; we have students who leave my information systems program with an A+, network+, security+, multiple Microsoft certifications; students leave our culinary with ServeSafe Idaho Food Handlers cards — just to name a few," Gray said.

Also speaking on the CTE panel were Karl Dye with PTech; Rebecca Palmer, the independent track coordinator at Clark Fork High School; Ricia Lasso, regional business specialist with Idaho Department of Labor; and Will Crook on behalf of MakerPoint Studios.

Other speakers throughout the day included Michael Paquin, president and CEO of Diedrich Roasters; Sam Wolkenhauer, economist with Idaho Department of Labor; Paul Kusche, Executive Director of Bonner County Economic Development Corporation; Paul Anselmo, superintendent of West Bonner County School District; Kevin Dinning, principal of Boundary County School District; Shawn Woodward, superintendent of Lake Pend Oreille School District; Steve Dilts, business development director for Encoder Products; and the final speaker of the day was Idaho gubernatorial candidate Tommy Ahlquist.

Mary Malone can be reached by email at mmalone@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.

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