Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Bottleneck in the Recovery

As our economy is beginning to grow again we are finding that the new jobs that are growing not the same as the jobs that have been lost. The new drivers of our economy are green jobs, technologically transformed health care and high value business export services like accounting, engineering and architecture.

However, to make the transition to this new economy we are going to have to close the skills gap in those new fields. Workers in the job that have been lost need to be retrained to fill the jobs that are growing. Even during the depth of the recession, we already saw unfilled vacancies of 10,000 jobs in health care fields, 2,500 in IT and and 500 in accounting and financial services in Washington State. As the economy picks up the skills mismatch will get worse.

What happens when employers can't find the skilled workers they need? In 2007, 4,000 firms reportedly moved at least some of their operations out of state to get the work done. Of 15,000 firms surveyed, 20% indicated that lack of skilled workers reduced their output, a third said it lowered productivity and and 14% indicated it reduced quality.

The problem is that there is no room at the inn. Washington State's Community and Technical Colleges run the Worker Retraining Program that provides money for instruction, tuition and fees for unemployed workers seeking new skills. The program is swamped with participants serving nearly twice as many students as the colleges have capacity and an equal number of students are unable to find openings in programs that they need to get a job.

Lack of capacity at our state's community and technical colleges to retrain workers for the jobs of the future could be the bottleneck that slows the recovery.

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