Link Investment in Education to Economic Health: Several States Are Trying to Improve Education and Training So They Match Business Needs and the Labor Pool

Article excerpt

In contrast to much of this year's frightening economic news, many states are investing in initiatives to strengthen local economies.

For example, a summer press release from Illinois Governor Rod R. Blagojevich's office touted that the new Batman film, The Dark Knight, brought nearly $40 million in revenue to the Illinois economy, making it the largest movie filmed in Illinois. According to the governor's office, filming the movie in the Chicago area created about 4,500 jobs in areas such as set construction, electrical work, truck driving, and acting. The Illinois Film Office, a division of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, markets the state as an ideal shooting location for films, television shows, and commercials and promotes the training and hiring of Illinois residents who represent the diversity of the state's population.

In other action related to artistic endeavors, the California General Assembly established the Digital Arts Studio Partnership and Workforce Program to train youth in digital technology skills (A.B. 2471). This should help meet the high interest of high school students raised on video games and electronic devices--plus expand the pool of trained workers for the state's film and other high-tech industries.

Matching Workers to Business Needs

Several states recently addressed the need to ensure a match between business and the labor pool--and they're improving education and training so that students can find jobs. The California Green Collar Jobs Act of 2008 requires the creation of a council responsible for matching programs, strategies, and resources to workforce needs generated by growth in the state's "green" economy.

Similarly, the Illinois legislature asked its Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to identify current and projected shortages in critical occupations and specific skill sets and to devise strategies to alleviate any identified shortages. This study will build on a previous effort--the Critical Skills Shortage Initiative--which brought together private and public entities to identify growth industries and industry skills shortages, to determine root causes for the shortages, and to develop solutions to fill the skills gaps and worker shortages. A report is required by February 1, 2009.

Since 2005, South Carolina has been developing a curriculum organized around a career cluster system that will provide students with strong academics and real-world, problem-solving skills. Before the end of the second semester of 8th grade, 8th-grade students (and their parents) are supposed to select a preferred cluster of study and develop an individual graduation plan. South Carolina also has a career readiness certification system in place.

In Oklahoma, the Governor's Council for Workforce and Economic Development will lead further development and implementation of the strategic plan that's been developed for a similar initiative, "Grow Oklahoma." The strategic framework proposes:

1. Increasing awareness of students, families, and educators of career options and opportunities and of how knowledge and skills development will meet industry needs and give Oklahoma a competitive advantage;

2. Increasing the skills and knowledge of young people entering the workforce;

3. Helping Oklahomans not now in the workforce to gain necessary skills;

4. Supporting workers in obtaining skills to transition from one job or career to another;

5. Investing in ongoing learning and skill development for existing workers, benefiting not only workers, but employers as well;

6. Informing employers of the availability of underused members of the workforce; and

7. Increasing the number of Oklahomans receiving highly technical skills and advanced degrees.

One of the strategic approaches is to use Career Readiness Certificates as a way to demonstrate skill attainment at multiple levels and with multiple populations. …