Let’s get to work on workforce
With the 2020 Legislative Session just around the corner, the Missouri Chamber and policymakers are rolling up their sleeves to continue tackling Missouri employers’ #1 concern — workforce.
In 2015, when the Missouri Chamber Foundation’s Missouri 2030 study by Gallup revealed fewer than half of Missouri business leaders were satisfied with the availability of skilled workers, it was a wakeup call.
The Missouri Chamber has been on an aggressive workforce development mission ever since, guided by the action items in Missouri 2030 and its companion report, Workforce2030.
“Workforce issues have moved to the front and center in state policy discussions and Missouri has made some strong steps forward,” said Daniel P. Mehan, Missouri Chamber president and CEO.
The Missouri Chamber’s annual statewide Workforce2030 Conference has been uniting hundreds of employers, educators and lawmakers to collaborate on innovative solutions and policies. Attendance at yearly Manufacturing Day events has grown to nearly 10,000 students. The launch of our free online internship portal, Missouri Intern Connect, has attracted hundreds of student registrations and internship listings. Our new STEM Signing Day program celebrates students committed to studying STEM in college by awarding them with scholarships. The Show-Me Careers Educator Experience, a five-day professional development boot camp taking educators inside local companies to learn about career opportunities for their students, is now being offered in multiple regions after two strong years in St. Louis.
Though these efforts continue, action was needed on the policy level as well. Fortunately, Missouri’s leaders in Jefferson City are focused on this issue.
“A year ago, we talked about developing a skilled workforce that is prepared for the jobs of the future,” Gov. Mike Parson said this fall at the Missouri Chamber’s second annual Workforce2030 Conference. “And since it was released last year, the Workforce2030 Report has served as an excellent guide on how to do this.”
Parson has already completed a massive government reorganization to help Missouri better compete for jobs and better serve our existing companies that are ready to grow.
“This change gives Missourians a resource for the full range of postsecondary options – from apprenticeships to certificates to doctoral programs,” said Zora Mulligan, commissioner of higher education at the Missouri Dept. of Higher Education and Workforce Development. “This is consistent with national trends toward recognizing the value of shorter-term, lower-cost programs.”
And that was just the beginning. Thanks to a workforce- focused governor and legislative leaders, there has been incredible progress in the legislative arena — most of which took effect in 2019.
Under the newly passed One Start initiative, Missouri’s job training programs will have increased flexibility and be easier for employers to use. The programs’ clawback-protected funding is performance-based and designed to ensure more of that money goes directly into job training.
Another proposal gives the state’s job training efforts a significant boost by providing financial aid for adult learners who want to pursue education and training for high demand industries. Fast Track grants will empower these Missourians to equip themselves with the skills employers need most.
Other workforce legislation included a new $450,000 appropriation in the state budget to train Missouri educators to teach computer science courses. This funding is timely as the state anticipates strong technology industry growth in coming years. (Read more about Missouri’s future in tech on page 16.) The legislature also passed a bill to boost awareness of in- demand careers by incentivizing teacher externships. This gives educators the option to spend summer hours in an externship for credit on the salary schedule equivalent to taking graduate classes, allowing them to work inside local companies and bring that experience back to the classroom.
Though these successes are well worth celebrating, Missouri’s workforce challenges are far from over. A Missouri Chamber study conducted in 2019 revealed workforce development remains business leaders’ top concern. And a tight labor market with unemployment hovering at an historic low only heightens the need.
The Missouri Chamber’s 2020 workforce agenda focuses on continuing to explore innovative solutions while supporting growth and full funding for existing initiatives.
Students must have access to training that gives them the skillsets employers actually need, and many individuals already in the workforce need upskilling to keep pace with evolving jobs. Fortunately, our state already ranks second in the nation for new apprenticeships according to data from the U.S. Dept. of Labor. Missouri also ranks second in the nation for the number of completed apprenticeships.
In a state where nearly two thirds of Missourians lack a college degree, expanding on-the-job training opportunities like these — as well as nontraditional college student scholarships like Fast Track grants and job training programs like One Start — will be key to narrowing the skills gap.
We also must attract more workers to Missouri and stem the brain drain of young educated workers leaving our state for opportunities elsewhere. Most 45-54 year-old Missouri workers (1.6 million people) will retire over the next two decades. They will be replaced by 1.4 million new workers under age 18, but only if Missouri can keep those workers as they graduate.