It is time to reframe our discussion about Idaho’s education investment and elevate its importance to our economic future.
Idaho has a problem. Simply spending money in education, if it works, will not show an economic return for at least 10 years, maybe longer, and we can’t wait that long. Month after month, over 5,000 high paying Idaho jobs remain unfilled, numerous Idaho companies have suspended growth and major construction projects are literally on hold, all for one reason. They can’t find enough talent.
At the same time the Wall Street Journal recently declared “Companies Flock to Cities With Top Talent” reminding us other states are ahead and luring the economic growth we envy. Idaho’s problem is the demand for talent is not on the horizon, not 10 years away, but is here right now.
The solution — we need to change our paradigm and focus on building specific talent pipelines. Talent pipelines are education channels, designed to train specific skills to meet a known need in the economy. Accelerating talent pipelines is a deliberate effort to prepare our kids, and adults, faster than traditional education pathways, for high paying jobs we know exist today.
The beauty of focusing on talent pipelines is it creates both immediate growth for Idaho companies and enhances our talent pools, enticing other companies to join our economy. Most importantly, it creates a known, tangible return on education investment right now, not in 10 years.
How do we build talent pipelines? We embrace three fundamental realities changing our world. First, we acknowledge the purpose of education is to get a good job and improve our income. Second, we recognize companies are rapidly shifting their focus to skills and not diplomas for hiring. Third, we recognize industry is the primary customer of our education system.
The solution acknowledges that less-expensive industry certificates, for example, are as valid as a college degree to get a good job. The solution demands we modify schedules and curriculums so kids can obtain specific skills faster. Code schools, for example, allow individuals to break into computer programming with less than six months of training. Apprenticeships offer pathways to manufacturing positions that pay $60,000 with less than two years of training. Other examples exist but the point is simple, talent pipelines accelerate pathways to higher incomes.
Finally, the solution demands we empower industry to influence education outcomes. As necessary partners, they know where the jobs are and can guide our efforts. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO said it well, “This crisis facing our society cannot go unaddressed and employers must lead the way in driving solutions.”
We cannot abandon traditional college pathways, but for Idaho to compete, we must embrace talent pipelines. They expedite the talent our economy needs and accelerate pathways to higher incomes. Change will require courage, but Idaho can and must be a bold leader in this rapidly evolving opportunity. Our economy deserves it, our industry partners deserve it, and our children deserve it.
Jeff Sayer is the founding partner of Rectify Horizons, an interim management firm and the former director of the Idaho Department of Commerce.