Missouri Business Headlines

Ready to work: New laws and funding will help break down barriers to employment

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From Missouri Business magazine

As employers seek to rebound following the COVID-19 pandemic, widespread workforce challenges are making it harder to return to normal. 

This is illustrated by the state’s job market numbers, which this spring showed more than 115,000 open jobs and 130,000 unemployed Missourians. Yet the answer isn’t as easy as plugging workers into available positions. Many employers are looking for workers with specific technical training or experience, making it more difficult to find a match for their opportunities. 

For years, the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry has been pushing for reforms to help improve the state’s workforce and equip Missourians with the skills they need. This focus emerged through the Missouri Chamber’s strategic initiative, which shed a light on the state’s workforce issues even well before the pandemic. 

Recent years have seen a number of positive workforce reforms led by the Missouri Chamber, a trend that continued during the 2021 legislative session. 

A growing number of Missouri employers are turning to apprenticeships to help develop talent for in-demand jobs. Missouri ranks second in the nation for new and completed apprenticeships, with the Missouri Chamber working to enhance this status through a $6 million federal grant that is expanding tech apprenticeships as well as through Missouri Apprentice Connect, a statewide apprenticeship matching service created in partnership with the Missouri Dept. of Higher Education and Workforce Development. 

This year, the Missouri Chamber provided a further boost to apprenticeships in the state by successfully championing a bill that will allow the state’s 529 college savings plan to also be used for apprenticeship expenses. This will make apprenticeships even more accessible to Missouri workers. 

Lawmakers also passed language to establish a statewide plan for enhancing career and technical education in the state, helping to make this training even more valuable to high school students. 

In addition, the state budget invests in many important workforce initiatives. This includes funding to help adults receive high school diplomas, certificates, credentials and degrees; assistance for employer-driven training programs, like Fast Track; funding for computer coding training; and expanding the ACT WorkKeys® curriculum in Missouri. These investments were made even as lawmakers fully funded the state’s education formula and increased funding to higher education institutions. 

“We have been hearing for years that workforce is one of the biggest issues facing Missouri employers. As we come out of the pandemic, these concerns are intensifying due to the growing skilled worker shortage,” said Daniel P. Mehan, Missouri Chamber president and CEO. “The bills and funding passed this year are breaking down unnecessary barriers and will help Missourians attain the knowledge and training they need to join our workforce and power our economic recovery.” 

Read the full issue of Missouri Business magazine

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