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September 7, 2018

Workforce challenge front and center at AWB Policy Summit

By: Andrew Lenderman   Comments: 0
AWB's 2018 Policy Summit is scheduled from Sept. 18-20 at Suncadia Resort in Cle Elum. Learn, connect and find new ways to get involved at Washington's premier public policy event.

We can’t find workers. They won’t show up on time. They can’t pass a drug test. We don’t get enough applicants. Nobody wants to work the trades anymore.

Too often, those are the comments we hear from Washington employers.

Meanwhile, employers added 201,000 jobs in August across the country, another sign of a strong labor market.

AWB has assembled Washington’s leading workforce experts to address the state’s labor challenges at the AWB Policy Summit. The panel, “Tomorrow’s Skilled Workforce,” is scheduled for 3:45 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 18.

The panel will focus on how our state’s education system is working to meet Washington’s current and future workforce needs, AWB Government Affairs Director Amy Anderson says.

It features Mike Meotti, executive director of the Washington Student Achievement Council; Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal; and Jan Yoshiwara, executive director of the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges. President Roy Heynderickx of Saint Martin’s University will moderate.

Here’s the big picture on the workforce: The Achievement Council’s goal says 70 percent of all Washington adults ages 25-44 should earn a postsecondary credential by 2023. For younger people, only 31 percent had earned a degree or credential six years after graduating high school, a Washington Roundtable report shows.

The Seattle Times asked Meotti last year if the council’s goal was too ambitious.

“The reality is, with each passing year, everybody is going to need something after high school if they want to join this much more complex labor market,” Meotti told the newspaper. “Postsecondary education is not just for the elite academic performers — we’re now saying it’s necessary for everyone.”

But that doesn’t mean everyone needs to go to Yale or the University of Connecticut, he explained.

“What I’m talking about is something after high school…,” he said.

So how do we get there?

“You really need to have pathways … that people in the community can see and follow,” Meotti said. “In order to achieve these big, breathtaking goals, you need this whole lifelong educational pathway. (For K-12 students), the path that takes you to higher education starts in middle school. (For adults), you have to show a pathway to get back into education and to be successful in a way that relates to life goals. If you have the pathways, if you remove the barriers — and one of the biggest barriers is cost and affordability — that’s the way you do it.”

While policymakers and business leaders work on solutions, the economy continues to roll.

“The Great American Jobs Machine rumbled on in August,” Joseph Brusuelas, chief economist at RSM US LLP, said in a note to clients as reported by the Wall Street Journal. He added that employment showed “little sign of easing significantly heading into the final 120 days of the year.”

Also putting pressure on the labor market is a record low number of people participating in it to begin with.

“The share of Americans participating in the labor force fell by 0.2 percentage point to 62.7% in August,” the Journal reported. “The rate is up slightly from a recent low of 62.3% in 2015, but still near the smallest share of adults participating since the late 1970s, a time when women were still entering the workforce in greater numbers.”

This appears to compound problems on the ground, or in the air, where the jobs are. And younger workers are sometimes not as committed as previous generations to their employers, some say.

“First of all, it’s a tight labor market,” said Dan Roth, editor-in-chief for LinkedIn, in a recent CNBC interview. “Employers are desperate for people for these job openings. They can’t fill them. There are more job openings than there are people to fill these jobs.”

AWB’s Policy Summit will tackle this and other challenges in an effort to keep Washington competitive at our annual policy summit this Sept. 18-20 at Suncadia Resort in Cle Elum.

This year’s event is sold out, but AWB has created a waiting list in case more space becomes available before the event. Please contact Kelli Schuler by email or call 360.943.1600 for more information.

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