Survey: Idaho businesses need postsecondary-educated workers

'We need to get more high school graduates to go on to college,' says Rod Gramer of Idaho Business for Education.

MOSCOW-PULLMAN DAILY NEWSMarch 19, 2014 

The question of how to better align the mix of degrees at institutions of higher learning with Idaho's employers sparked the interest of Idaho Business for Education, leading it to conduct a statewide survey of 466 businesses about their needs.

"Skilled workers are really the lifeblood of business, just like water is the lifeblood of our farmers," says Rod Gramer, president and CEO of IBE. "Without an educated, skilled workforce, our businesses in Idaho can't grow."

IBE is a nonprofit organization of Idaho's business leaders with the common goal of bettering education in the state. They work to develop an education system that improves the number of students with postsecondary credentials who are ready for the workforce.

Gramer presented the results of the survey, conducted May to September, to the Idaho State Board of Education in February. The bottom line shows that by 2018, 61 percent of jobs will require post-secondary credentials with the greatest demand for a bachelor's degree. Gramer says people with a bachelor's degree or higher have gained 2 million jobs since the Great Recession, while those with only a high school degree have lost jobs.

Gramer says there is a 26 percent gap between the educated workforce Idaho currently has and the workforce needed in five years. As a result, high-wage jobs will go unfilled and businesses will leave the state in pursuit of workers while low-wage jobs will be oversupplied, leaving Idaho wages to stagnate.

"It is hard to recruit new business to the state because of the lack of workforce," Gramer says. "We think this needs to be tackled with urgency. We need to get more high school graduates to go on to college."

The IBE survey concluded that the five degrees in greatest demand are computer science/technology, business and economics, engineering, health science and communications.

Beyond simply having a degree, employers are focused on the "soft skills" of graduates. Students who can perform with integrity, can contribute to a team, and can acquire knowledge and communicate effectively have a better chance of obtaining a job. Gramer says beyond written communication skills, oral communication skills came up as a valuable trait in businesses from throughout the state.

"The universities of higher education are qualified to teach students these soft skills regardless of their degree," Gramer says.

Boise State University President Bob Kustra says the school is taking the career services function into the orientation program starting this fall. BSU is creating a mandatory session for all parents about career opportunities for their child and where jobs will be available. Kustra says it is difficult to prepare the "perfect graduate" for a job market that is always fluctuating.

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