State Politics

Thousands of Idaho jobs that require science & math are going unfilled

Instructor Matt Overall (right) helps a student with a Javascript exercise during a BoiseCodeWorks bootcamp in September 2015. Such code schools have popped up across the country, offering intensive, “boot-camp” style courses that allow students to get certified in coding programs more quickly than they would by attending college — and in theory, qualifying them for many of the tech jobs that today’s companies have a hard time filling.
Instructor Matt Overall (right) helps a student with a Javascript exercise during a BoiseCodeWorks bootcamp in September 2015. Such code schools have popped up across the country, offering intensive, “boot-camp” style courses that allow students to get certified in coding programs more quickly than they would by attending college — and in theory, qualifying them for many of the tech jobs that today’s companies have a hard time filling. Idaho Statesman file

Thousands of high-wage jobs in Idaho are going unfilled each year, and education officials say the problem will only get worse if something isn’t done to expand STEM and career-technical opportunities.

In a presentation to the joint budget committee Wednesday, STEM Action Center Director Angela Hemingway said 7,000 science, technology, engineering and math jobs went unfilled in Idaho in 2017, double the number from the year before.

“That represents a huge drag on Idaho’s economy,” she said. The combined annual salary for the positions amounted to $450 million, which would have generated about $24 million in state tax revenues.

Based on current graduation rates, Hemingway said, the number of unfilled STEM jobs — jobs that require some level of post-secondary training in science, technology, engineering or math — could increase to 36,000 by 2024.

Dwight Johnson, administrator of the Division of Career-Technical Education, painted a similar picture during his budget presentation.

Johnson said the Department of Labor projects a shortfall of 49,000 workers by 2024, which represents the difference between the number of new jobs and the available workers.

The bulk of those are high-skill, high-wage jobs, he said, including 15,000 to 20,000 that could be filled by people who have some post-secondary training, but less than a four-year degree.

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter proposes modest increases for both agencies to help address the situation.

Otter’s fiscal 2019 general fund budget recommends $2 million for a STEM Action Center computer science initiative, which will pay for regional STEM fairs, professional development for STEM teachers in public schools, grants for school computer science activities and projects, and scholarships for students to attend computer science camps.

The 2019 Career-Technical Education budget includes nearly $1 million to expand post-secondary training opportunities in seven high-demand fields. This includes $83,300 and one new position at Lewis-Clark State College’s graphic communications program, and $52,500 for LCSC’s diesel technology/collision repair program.

Johnson said this is the third year of an ongoing effort to address employment shortages in specific areas.

“We’re targeting programs that have 100 percent placement for graduates and that have waiting lists,” he said. “We’re looking at seven key programs at the six technical colleges. There are about 800 job openings a year in these occupations, and we only produce 161 graduates to meet that demand. We’ll be able to increase enrollment by 107 with this funding. We’re expanding the pipeline to create more supply to meet the demand.”

Another $173,700 would launch an effort to create “career exploration” programs in middle schools, beginning in 2020. Johnson said the intent is to help kids decide early on - seventh or eighth grade - whether they want to pursue CTE programs in high school.

Overall, Otter is recommending a $321,500, 0.5 percent increase in CTE funding in fiscal 2019. However, that includes a $1.1 million transfer to the newly established College of Eastern Idaho in Idaho Falls so the college can assume responsibility for certain programs previously offered at Eastern Idaho Technical College.

Without that transfer, total CTE funding would increase by $1.4 million, or 2.1 percent.

Spence may be contacted at bspence@lmtribune.com or (208) 791-9168.

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