Companies can't find qualified applicants; who's to blame for job skills gap?on May 16, 2012 @ 6:35 pm (Updated: 6:57 am - 5/17/12 )
Manufacturing remained the strongest sector for growth, and aerospace was the biggest piece of that. Four hundred jobs in aerospace were added last month. Even more remain open and unfilled.
Many companies are saying they cannot find qualified applicants. But there are those who say schools, and even the employers themselves, may be at least partly to blame.
"It's said that we don't really have an unemployment issue, we have a skill gap issue," says State Senator Jim Kastama of Puyallup.
Propping up the aerospace industry was a major focus during this past legislative session. Kastama says colleges are too worried about what students find amusing and not concerned enough about creating employable graduates.
"I have seen situations where they have cut programs where, when people graduate, they have a high rate of getting employment, because other programs have more people who wanted to get into those programs," says Kastama.
One idea floated to encourage students toward high-demand fields like aerospace is differential tuition. Students would be offered a lower per-credit rate if they pursue a technical degree.
Washington's Center of Excellence in Aerospace works to better align job training at our community colleges with industry needs. Mary Kaye Bredeson is the director. She says they're working to implement a $20 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor by this fall.
"It's to build capacity in short term, certificates that lead to jobs in aerospace and advanced manufacturing," says Bredeson.
But she says, there is a lot more employers could do to address the skills gap, like offering paid internships.
Bredeson would also like to see employers here recognize a skills certificate from the National Association of Manufacturers. It is already the norm in many other states.
"They're assessed, what they know in applied mathematics, reading for information and locating information. That gives them a certificate that says - I am ready to go to work," says Bredeson.
Boeing requires the testing for new employees at their South Carolina plant, and yet Bredeson says they do not recognize it when hiring here in Washington.
While the test is given to some students at community colleges in our state, she says it should be given at high school graduation along with the SATs.
"A lot of our high school programs are college prep, but only 30 percent go on to a four year. What are we doing to prepare the other 70 percent?" asks Bredeson.
Washington is currently home to the largest portion of America's aerospace industry. In addition to Boeing, about 400 small and medium-sized aerospace companies are based here. Bredeson worries if we don't keep up with the demand for skilled employees, companies could start moving elsewhere.
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