View Western Governors Discuss Workforce Development in Low-Unemployment States; Livestreaming and Video Available

DENVER POST reportage on the meeting of western Governors on September 18:

Of the five states with the lowest unemployment rates in August, four were located in the western half of the U.S., a region where economic development is increasingly finding itself handcuffed to workforce development.

“Our labor market is way tight,” Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper told a workforce development workshop hosted by the Western Governors’ Association at the Art Hotel in Denver on Monday.

So tight, companies don’t want to relocate to the region because they can’t find the workers they need, he said. When asked about their greatest challenge, businesses don’t list increasing sales or access to new markets, but rather their inability to find qualified workers.

In August, North Dakota, Colorado, and Hawaii ranked Nos. 1, 2 and 3 among states reporting the lowest unemployment rates — all under 2.6 percent. Utah, South Dakota, Idaho and Nebraska all were at 3.5 percent or lower, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Western Governors’ Association covers 19 western states, and its members are focusing more attention on better aligning the skills workers have with those that employers want. But the task is a challenging one.

“We want to redefine success,” South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard said at the workshop.

One goal of workforce development programs is to make high school students aware of the perils of dropping out and the need to pursue training beyond high school, including options outside a traditional four-year degree, Daugaard said.

For example, an electrician, once established, can make $100,000 a year, Hickenlooper said. But convincing students, not to mention their parents, that rewarding careers can be had in construction or manufacturing can be a tough sell.

“There is a stigma attached to career-technical training,” said Tami Pyfer, education adviser to Utah Gov. Gary Herbert.

Too many college students pursue majors based purely on interest, only to find out that the expertise they have obtained isn’t in demand or is poorly compensated, Daugaard said. Or they focus on fields, like marketing, where graduates greatly outnumber job openings.

Only 60 percent of those who start college complete a degree within six years, and whether they finish or not, many students pile on heavy debts that weigh them down for years. A study Monday from the National Association of Realtors and nonprofit American Student Assistance found that millennials are delaying home purchases by seven years on average due to student loan debt, which totals $1.4 trillion. Young adults also are delaying marriage and having children because of their financial burdens.

Three decades ago, only 30 percent of those entering the labor force obtained a four-year college degree and many workers could make a living with only a high school diploma. But by 2030, the share of jobs requiring a college degree or specialized training beyond high school will flip.

The worst off are those who drop out of high school or lack some kind of specialized skills or degree. Hickenlooper said a tidal wave of automation is set to sweep over the economy in the next 10 to 15 years, and the first jobs that will be going away are low-pay, low-skill positions.

From the Western Governor Association’s webpage:

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper touted his state's job creation and low unemployment rate at the Denver workshop of the Western Governors’ Workforce Development Initiative.

"Colorado has added 400,000 jobs since I came into office," Gov. Hickenlooper said during a keynote (Watch it here) that opened the workshop focusing on effective partnerships with industry. "Unemployment, which was 9% at the time the recession hit, is now about 2.3%."

The Governor noted, however, that success has a flip side. "Part of challenge is that the labor pool is so tight, businesses are finding it hard to find the talent that they need. So by necessity, we are reaching out to markets we hadn’t focused on before, such as people 65 and older, for example, who may have left the job market but want to keep working."

The search for talent also extends to younger people, in part through the new CareerWise Colorado program. "We're going to have 250 high school students going to work for 80 companies in the coming year," the Governor said. "But I want to see us get to 20,000 apprenticeships in the near future."

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who launched the Workforce Development Initiative in his role as WGA Chair, agreed that employers in his state face a similar challenge finding qualified workers. Gov. Daugaard said that has resulted in a different way of thinking.

"In South Dakota we are working to redefine how to achieve career success. That is, you don’t necessarily need to go to four-year college. That's a good path, but other paths can lead to careers with great success. With so many options out there, we need to make sure students understand them all."  (Watch the Governors' remarks.)

The Western Governors' Association Denver workshop on Sept. 18-19 at the Art Hotel is the second in a series for the Chairman's Initiative of Gov. Daugaard. The initiative seeks to leverage the region’s best thinking to bridge the gap between prospective workers and employers in the West to create enhanced career opportunities for students, graduates and displaced workers.

All workshop livestreams are archived on WGA’s YouTube page

Monday, Sept. 18:

Opening Remarks: Listen to remarks by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and WGA Chair and South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard.

Keynote: Suzan and Eric LeVine: Suzan LeVine, the former U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein, and her husband Eric discussed their work as self-described “evangelists of apprenticeship.”

Roundtable: The Role of States in Strengthening Industry Leadership for Talent: This discussion focused on the role states play in bringing industry to the table and leveraging state resources for workforce development. Moderator: Wendy Brors, Assistant Director, Colorado Workforce Development Council. Panelists: John Aultman, Senior Policy Advisor, Workforce Development, Office of Washington Governor Jay Inslee; Shalee Hodgson, System Alignment Manager, Oregon Employment Department; Tami Pyfer, Education Advisor, Office of Utah Governor Gary Herbert. 

Case Study: Colorado’s Model for Public-Private Partnerships:  This case study provided the how and why of setting up successful public-private partnerships. Moderator: Stephanie Veck, Director, Colorado Workforce Development Council. Panelists: Yvonne Myers, Northern Colorado Health Sector Partnership; Elerie Archer, Greater Metro Denver Healthcare Sector Partnership; Thomas Hartman, Colorado Career Pathways Coordinator, Colorado Workforce Development Council.

Roundtable: Industry-Led Workforce Development Initiatives: States and industry representatives provided examples of successful workforce development initiatives that have been driven by businesses or industry. Moderator: Ellen Golombek, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. Panelists: Noel Ginsburg, Founding Executive Board Chair, CareerWise Colorado; Carla Gatzke, VP of Human Resources, Daktronics; Heather Terenzio, Co-founder & CEO, Techtonic Group.

Tuesday Livestream Schedule

Roundtable: Aligning Education and Training with Industry Defined Competencies (8:30 a.m.): An exploration of the use of industry defined competencies to develop meaningful education and training and efforts to encourage employers to hire based on those defined skills. Moderator: Jeff Wasden, President, Colorado Business Roundtable. Panelists: Beth Cobert, CEO, Skillful; Mary LeFebvre, Senior Research Scientist-Workforce Policy, ACT; Andrew Fitzpatrick, Director Global Policy, Walmart.

Looking Around the Curve (10 a.m.): Josh Davies, Center for Work Ethic Development, will examine how employment has changed throughout history and how it will change in the future. Topics will include the impact of automation, the rising role of competency-based education and training, and the importance of partnering with industry. Following the presentation watch a discussion moderated by Jim Ogsbury, Executive Director of WGA, among representatives from industries that will be affected by the changes, including: Chris Houwman, CEO, Malloy Electric, Tom Bugnitz, CEO, Manufacturer’s Edge