Governor pushes 'Future Ready Oregon' to close workforce skills gap
SALEM — Gov. Kate Brown, dedicated her state-of-the-state speech Monday to addressing the issue of Oregonians who have been left behind by the state's economic prosperity and steady job growth.
"Oregon's rising economic tide should be lifting all boats. Yet many hardworking families are still under water," Brown said.
While some Oregonians are working two jobs to get by, state economists are projecting 27,000 high-wage job openings each year through 2024, many of which will occur in the technology industry. Currently, one out of every four job openings in that industry is filled by out-of-state hires, she said.
"It is clear there is a gap between the skills Oregon's workers have and the skills that our growing businesses need," Brown said.
She announced that she would launch a new program designed to provide job and skill training to help fill the gap. Dubbed "Future Ready Oregon," the program's goal is to "close the skills gap between the workforce we have the workforce we need to fuel Oregon's economy," she said.
The program would earmark $300 million to career technical education classes in the 2019-2021 state budget. Without providing details, Brown said, the program would make hands-on learning programs available at every public school district in the state. The program also would offer apprenticeships in high-needs industries such as information technology, health care, advanced wood manufacturing and high-tech manufacturing. Such programs already exists in Bend and Eugene, she said.
The plan includes legislation to help mid-career construction professionals to start their own business by among other things, waiving all state fees and formal education requirements for those who have worked in construction for at least eight years.
She said she is directing Business Oregon to invest in rural areas, communities of color and Oregon's nine tribes.
An example of such an investment is state funding of broadband and infrastructure to increase competitiveness in rural industries, she said.
Her plan also involves directing the Higher Education Coordinating Commission and Business Oregon to collaborate to match high-growth industries with job training programs.
In addition to job training, she said the state needs to continue to address the high cost of housing.
Her office is scheduled to announce several pilot programs in the coming weeks to address the state's housing shortage and high cost of housing.
The 38th governor delivered the speech in the House of Representatives at the Oregon State Capitol, and footage was streamed live on the Oregon Legislature's website.
The address kicked off the 79th Legislative Assembly and a 35-day policymaking session.
A pressing issue this session is adjusting the state budget to account for a projected $280 million in unrealized tax revenue due to recent federal tax reform.
A week before session commenced, leaders in the Senate extinguished most hope of passing a state "cap and invest" program for industry this year, which is a policy priority for House Democrats and has the support of the governor. Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, said that such a complex policy probably had better chances during the Legislature's longer session in 2019. The program would charge industry for releasing greenhouse gases and invest the proceeds into projects intended to curtail global warming.
Since 2010, the Legislature has convened for 35 days in even years and for 160 in odd years.
This month marks three years since Brown, previously the secretary of state, succeeded Gov. John Kitzhaber, who resigned amid an influence-peddling scandal, and her first anniversary as elected governor. She is seeking reelection later this year, having almost completed the remainder of Kitzhaber's term.