On any given day, I might hear the following concerns: That we are short on housing, that we have jobs but no workforce, and that we have hundreds of people locally, willing and able to take advantage of jobs in the light manufacturing industry, but lacking appropriate skills and training.
What can we do about that? We want the benefits of economic development to go to local folks, but if firms are having to recruit employees from out of state, we’re missing a great opportunity.
It’s a common refrain, and finding skilled labor is a difficult task. The gap in a skilled labor force isn’t unique to Wyoming. The story is replicated all across the United States. It’s estimated that there are more than one million unfilled jobs in skilled machining alone. Add to that plumbers, electricians, HVAC, nursing — you name it — and there is a shortage of well-trained employees.
And yet, there is no shortage of people who would like to step up to a better job.
I recently asked a friend how he will fill his office with skilled employees. He said he will make an upcoming recruiting trip across Wyoming and four adjoining states in a search for talent.
What is the difference between folks here and folks elsewhere?
“Training,” he said. There are simply not enough people in our area with the proper training to fill all the good-paying jobs.
There is a disconnect in our economic development efforts if our own people cannot fill these jobs. Why can we not find ways to provide the training to our local residents, who are equally as driven as anyone out of state?
These employees may be traditional high school or college students, but could include nontraditional students and people who have been in the workforces for years, but are looking to up their skills.
Part of what holds them back is a lack of resources.
For traditional students, this may mean an inability to access grant or loan money for tuition and books. There are scholarships aplenty for those with a record of high academic achievement, but not so for those with less stellar grades. Yet, aren’t those kids also deserving of assistance that will give them a shot at a good education and lifetime skills?
Non-traditional students are defined as adults whose school days are behind them and are now in the workforce. Once you have a family and a job, how do you find the money and the time to go back to school for skills training? Are there programs designed for them?
There are models across the United States that have been successful in solving this dilemma. For instance, Tennessee had successfully attracted heavy manufacturing to the region, but local folks were often unable to get the associated jobs due to a lack of training. The response was the creation of “Tennessee Reconnect,” a state program funding education and training for non-traditional students, and traditional students on a technical education track.
Closer to home, Laramie County Community College convinced the Ellbogen Foundation to fund “Rediscover LCCC.” The program aims to provide financial aid for working adults to return to school to upgrade their skills. It was oversubscribed in a matter of days.
No doubt we have community members here, too, who would like to do the same, if only the resources were available.
As a community, we should set our sights on supporting similar innovative training programs that will enable local people to step up to better jobs, and enable our local employers to more readily and easily hire locally.
Dave Kinskey represents Wyoming Senate District 22 which consists of Johnson County and eastern Sheridan County. A businessperson and former mayor of Sheridan, Kinskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 307-751-6428.