Liz Farmer is a GOVERNING finance writer.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
With the recession in the rearview mirror some state leaders say their biggest job growth challenge now is providing and fostering a workforce that can fill the demand of the new economy.
“Two years ago, employers were saying to me, ‘Hey Governor … we’re thinking about or are [in the middle of] layoffs,’” said Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin. “You go back now and they say, ‘Hey great things are happening here – the challenge now is we can’t find enough trained employees to do the work that is available.”
Shumlin’s comments came at a Democratic Governors Association panel discussion on job growth and the economy Friday held in Washington, D.C. at the Newseum.
Several other governors echoed Shumlin’s sentiment that a four-year college degree is not a cure-all and in fact, it’s not the right path for everyone. That’s where Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) schools are playing a key role, they said.
“We need to do a much better job engaging our non-four-year college-bound students,” said Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. “We need to engage them at that early age, when they’re 15, 16, 17 [years old]. Not waiting until they’re 25 and they realize that they just don’t have the skill set they need for the modern economy. I think that’s a real challenge to get those 16-year-olds to see their potential in technical schools.”
Inslee later told Governing what had reinforced his belief was meeting with a group of teens who participated in a program at their Seattle high school to encourage their truant peers to come back to school. “What they told me what they need is a way for those [truant] students to understand high school in their lives,” Inslee said, “a relevance to understand what their ultimate goal is.”
New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan said STEM schools and technical degrees still have an old-fashioned stigma to them, that they are thought of as less-skilled manufacturing options. But, she said, entry level manufacturing jobs in the technology field in her state start at $80,000 to $90,000 annually and don’t require a four-year degree.
“One of things we have to do is help families and guidance counselors understand what … the manufacturing sector really looks like,” she said.
Bill Goodwyn, CEO of Discovery Education, added that beyond just talking up technology manufacturing, curriculum should be updated to the 21st Century.
“Science is one of the coolest things to teach but we’re still teaching it out of a printed text book and materials,” he said. He added that kids needed to be caught early on: “If we don’t get kids excited about STEM education by the time they’re in middle school or leave middle, we’re done.”
The panelists comments came less than two weeks after President Barack Obama announced in his State of the Union address a challenge to redesign high schools to prepare graduates for a high-tech economy.
“We will reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering and math — the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill the jobs that are there right now and will be there in the future,” Obama said in his speech.