Building on the Positive
by John Vanderkin
An April 3, 2013 press release by the Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board states, “Our recent statewide employer survey found more than half of employers who had a hard time filling a job opening struggled because they could not find qualified employees with vocational certificates and associate’s degrees.” Similar data shows that Clark County is experiencing its share of this same “Skills Gap” phenomenon.
When it comes to the skills gap, there is much debate about what got us here. We hear things like: “The schools haven’t kept up”; “businesses are walking away from their responsibility to train employees”; “today’s youth just don’t have the work ethic they should.” Regardless of your opinion, it is clear that it will take the focus of the whole community to correct the problem.
The subject of a skills gap is one of many challenges we face both locally and nationally. On any given day we wake up and experience the divisiveness that has crept into our nation and our own community as we debate these challenges. We are divided on subjects like gun control, immigration reform, building a new Columbia River bridge, local budget issues and countless other squabbles.
When I moved to Vancouver, I was drawn to the community spirit and the way that residents and business band together to support one another and to address our local challenges. Rather than debating the cause or waiting for federal or state government to devise and implement a plan, members of our community are banding together to become part of the solution to our unemployment and skills gap challenge.
The SW Washington Workforce Development Council (SWWDC) is working to provide training to job seekers, programs for at risk youth and provide companies with training resources to close the skills gap with their current workforce. The Columbia River Economic Development Council (CREDC) is working hard to recruit new businesses, foster and support new startups, and connect existing businesses to local resources that can help improve their employees’ productivity and knowledge.
There are innovative partnerships like the one between SEH America and Evergreen Public Schools to provide internships for high school students.
Other organizations partner with local business to train current and future jobseekers; such as Dream Big Community Center, working with middle and high school students to identify their professional dreams and set achievable goals to reach them. nConnect partners with local high schools and area businesses to provide career exploration, mentoring and internships for students. Partners In Careers (PIC) launched the Youth First Program where at-risk high school students are partnered with businesses for a paid employment program which allows them to see the value of staying in school and overcoming their employment barriers. Or PIC’s Roots to Road program, a partnership with Clark County to provide agricultural training and employment opportunities for veterans.
These are but a few of the many innovative programs and partnerships taking place in our community to bridge this skills gap. While each of these programs will not individually fix this growing problem, they are positive steps toward a lasting solution. If you are involved in these or similar efforts to improve our community, I applaud you. If you are not, I ask you to consider joining in the effort to build on the positive steps these and other individuals have taken together.
Contact one of these organizations or the many others doing great work in our community. Together we can make a difference in people’s lives, improve our workforce and grow our economy. Our future depends upon it!
John Vanderkin is the president of Employers Overload, a Portland-based staffing company with offices in Vancouver and Longview. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Photo Credit: geralt)