'Skills gap' threatens strength of workforce
As a former Washington County Juvenile Director, I was encouraged by our governors commitment to education and teacher training. However, I am still deeply concerned about high-school graduation rates and how those disappointing rates affect our fragile economy.
Specifically, Im troubled about a major economic problem that Oregon will face in the years to come: A looming skills gap that threatens the strength of our workforce.Simply, a skills gap exists when there are more job openings than there are workers qualified to fill those openings.
Research highlighted by the business leader group ReadyNation shows during the current decade, 70 percent of job openings will call for employees who have college or postsecondary training. Only 65 percent of working-age Oregonians have this level of education.
That 5 percent gap means Oregon will have about 35,000 unfilled positions. Worse still, Oregon isnt on track to closing that gap. Oregons 72 percent graduation rate is fourth from the bottom among the 50 states. This ranking should be of grave concern to Oregonians.
Oregon needs to send more students to college and post-secondary job training so that they have viable options in the modern job market. Not enough young adults are graduating from high school and many are not graduating with the skills necessary for the jobs that exist.
Our skills gap poses a particular threat in STEM fields science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, sectors that are growing the fastest. STEM jobs in Oregon are expected to grow by 19 percent between 2010 and 2020. Our workforce isnt currently equipped to take advantage of that increased demand because 94 percent of Oregon STEM job openings will require postsecondary education.
One solution that can bolster our workforce is deeper learning.
Deeper learning is a research-supported pathway that will help students access postsecondary education and careers. It teaches them the executive-functioning skills of critical thinking, teamwork, effective communication and problem solving that the modern workplace demands.
Deeper learning fosters the growth of these skills through innovative educational models in real-world settings. These experiences use work-based and project-based learning to create practical connections between the classroom and careers. They even provide opportunities for students to obtain actual credentials that can help them land jobs.
The research on deeper learning is encouraging: A well-designed study of career academies across the country showed that participating students were twice as likely as non-participating students to be working in the computer, engineering, and media technology sectors eight years after graduation.
Career Technical Education (CTE) has already been shown to increase the supply of STEM workers, which is essential to closing Oregons skills gap. While Oregon has many of these programs, there arent enough to fill the demand. Many students are left out who want to participate.
The legislature recently pledged funding for more CTE opportunities. Those grants are currently being awarded. Unfortunately, they are one-time awards and not enough for all schools to provide the continued resources necessary for the programs. Supporting deeper learning efforts like these gives more kids opportunities to access innovative models that better prepare them for future careers.
I urge our policymakers to create a permanent dedicated funding stream for deeper learning programs. Expanding options and closing the skills gap that make our kids competitive, engaged and trained is key to improving graduation rates and the economy.
Joe Christy, the former director of the Washington County Juvenile Department, is a Tigard resident.