The Future of Missouri's Workforce
HB 225 and Fast-Track to the Workforce
Earlier this week, the Missouri Senate debated HB 225, legislation that would establish the “Fast-Track Workforce Incentive Grant.” The Fast-Track grant is a priority of Governor Parson’s workforce development initiative. This grant would provide scholarships to Missouri students over the age of 25 who have not been enrolled in a postsecondary program for the past two years to continue their education. To qualify, students must be pursuing a course of study that has been determined by the Coordinating Board for Higher Education to be an occupational shortage area.
Fast-Track is one example of Missouri’s increased focused on workforce readiness. In 2018, Governor Parson announced the launch of Talent for Tomorrow/Best in the Midwest. Several bills were introduced in the Missouri legislature this session, including legislation that would create workforce standards and expand apprenticeships and teacher externships . Legislation passed in 2018 created a task force to explore the idea of a required course in career preparation for students in grades 8 or 9. The broad sentiment supporting workforce readiness is clearly present. This is true throughout the country, not just in Missouri.
What are our workforce readiness priorities? Early legislative committee hearings showed that supporters of workforce standards emphasize different, though not contradictory, benefits. To some, it means the social/emotional skills necessary to be successful, not just in the workplace, but in society. To others, it means demonstrating the technical abilities required in a skilled trade. The development of workforce standards could lead to the opportunity for more individualized instruction, while simultaneously giving students the skills employers have identified as currently lacking. A 2014 Missouri Chamber of Commerce survey of more than 1,000 Missouri employers, 44 percent said they believe Missouri’s high school graduates are not prepared for the workforce. Another 15 percent of employers said they believe Missouri’s college graduates are not prepared for the workforce.
What do we mean by “workforce readiness standards”? We need common vocabulary and a common understanding of workforce standards. State academic standards for K-12 students currently align with traditional academic disciplines. Standards identify what students should know and be able to do in a certain grade level. Some are very specific (mathematics) while others are broader but still defined (fine arts).
Workforce standards might be better compared to Missouri’s teacher standards which were implemented following 2009 legislation. The state teacher standards were developed based on the competencies and characteristics of a successful teacher. While teacher standards may be a better model for workforce standards than are the current academic content area standards, we are still left with questions about requirements and implementation.
How will we know that workforce initiatives have the intended impact?
These are a few of the key questions to address:
Can we define the outcomes we would like to see? And, can we measure these outcomes?
Are workforce standards specifically about vocational needs, or can they be more broadly defined?
For workforce development, how do we effectively balance our investments of addressing today’s workforce needs with planning for future workforce needs?
Missourians have demonstrated their interest in and commitment to being the “Best in the Midwest.” Well-defined objectives and measurable outcomes are essential for success in our workforce development initiatives.
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