Business Insider

Idaho needs apprenticeships for young Hispanics

Last month the Idaho Department of Labor predicted Idaho would add 137,000 jobs by 2024. Great news.

However 61 percent of these new jobs will require a post-high school degree or certificate. Bad news. On our present course, Idaho will not get close.

Four years ago, the State Board of Education set out to meet precisely this need, setting a brave goal of 60 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds having a post-high school degree by 2020. Unfortunately, Idaho was defunding universities and steadily losing good teachers to other states or occupations (we rank 48th in school funding). Today, only 20 percent of high school juniors are “college ready.”

So where do we stand? Jeff Sayer, the former director of the Department of Commerce, recently wrote, “Month after month, over 5,000 high-paying Idaho jobs remain unfilled, numerous Idaho companies have suspended growth and major construction projects are on hold, all for one reason. They can’t find enough talent.”

A quick answer would be “Pay more.” The West Coast pays a lot better and is only a day’s drive away.

But Sayer suggests an immediate help would be more industry certificates, which cost less and can lead to decent incomes in a matter of months. The Statesman recently featured one such example, a code-writing school in BoDo.

Another would be apprenticeships in manufacturing. Let’s double back to the state Department of Labor and hear from its director, Ken Edmunds.

He says, “We can’t meet our manpower needs in the future if we keep wasting the talent of our Hispanic population.” Forty-two percent don’t finish high school, and one reason is families need their youngsters’ income. If they could “earn while they learn,” with apprenticeships in agriculture and related technology, they could eventually operate the equipment of the future, Edmund reasons.

While Latino labor is critical to Idaho agriculture now, the industry is automating. Simplot combined three french-fry plants into one and cut 450 jobs. Robots can feed cows and sort potatoes.

Edmunds is shaping up a proposal for apprenticeships for young Hispanics. Since 22 percent of Idaho students are minorities, it deserves attention. Yes, a mind is a terrible thing to waste. It’s also bad for our economic future.

Jerry Brady is a member of Compassionate Boise, a new organization encouraging compassion in all aspects of life. This column appears in the Sept. 20-Oct. 18, 2016, edition of the Idaho Statesman’s Business Insider magazine as part of a special section on human resources and workforce development. Click here for the e-edition (subscription required).