Opinion: Our future, our workforce

  

By Kathryn Swan

Since 2011, the Missouri Department of Higher Education has been pursuing a big goal, one in which 60 percent of adults age 24-65 would have a two-year or four-year degree or career or technical certificate by 2025. In Preparing Missourians to Succeed: A Blueprint for Higher Education, the Department says that new policies, programs and partnerships are necessary to prepare Missouri for the challenges of the future.

A 2015 Gallup poll commissioned by the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry found that Missouri’s economic performance had fallen behind and without unified, statewide business leadership and ambitious new efforts; our state’s economic performance was not likely to improve.

The partners of Best in the Midwest and Talent for Tomorrow, two recent initiatives intended to transform our state into one of the top states for economic growth and workforce development, found that Missouri has the seventh most diversified economy and ranks among the top 10 states in high school graduation rates, but lags in post-secondary degree or credential attainment.

In the State of the State Address, Governor Mike Parson emphasized his two core priorities: infrastructure and workforce development. His commitment to our workforce is noted in his budget recommendations for three new programs: Fast-Track Workforce Incentive Grant, Missouri One Start and Missouri Excels Workforce Initiative.

Fast-Track is a new needs-based grant program targeted at adults over the age of 25 who are working toward a certification, undergraduate degree or industry-recognized credential for a high demand occupation. Missouri One Start is designed to provide more workforce training for new and expanding businesses. Missouri Excels is a new initiative for higher education to develop and expand employer-driven education and training programs.

The workforce challenge is best met through a coordinated effort involving state government, the legislature, the business community, K12 schools, colleges, universities, career and technical schools and our communities. Change is needed to remove obstacles, build on strengths and opportunities, and develop our workforce to be competitive and to help our state and regions grow. The fastest growing jobs through 2026 will be in the service sector at all skill levels, many requiring a certificate or credential.

Missouri is ready for the challenge. The time is now.

Rep. Kathryn Swan is chair of the Missouri House Committee on Workforce Development.