Message to STL: We’re having wrong workforce development conversation

By on April 14, 2019

From Silicon Prairie News: It’s no secret: The Silicon Prairie has a workforce problem.

It isn’t just us, either. Employers across America can’t find enough qualified workers. With a historically low unemployment rate, qualified, talented workers aren’t just sitting in front of a screen browsing ZipRecruiter and CareerBuilder.

This talent shortage hasn’t gone unnoticed by workforce developers.

That said, the public discussion around a shortage of workers often focuses solely on the skilled trades—and that really is a crisis. For years, the number of vacancies for plumbers, electricians, and carpenters have far exceeded the number of applicants.

As a result, workforce developers have tried to increase interest among young people in the skilled trades, reminding them (and their parents) that the surest path to a stable, middle-class life may not come with a degree on the wall and a tie around your neck.

Instead, it may come from a protractor in your front pocket and a toolbelt around your waist.

But what about America’s other talent crisis?

Over the last decade, St. Louis, Kansas City, Omaha, and cities across America have placed technology, startups, and entrepreneurship at the core of their economic-development strategy. Whether it’s supporting tech startups through organizations like KC SourceLink or Arch Grants—or 2017’s nationwide recruitment of Amazon HQ2—economic developers have realized how important technology-based businesses are to cities and communities.

Unfortunately, workforce development and economic development are often unaligned.

That isn’t an opinion.

It’s a fact.

The St. Louis region responded to Amazon’s RFP with an incentives package worth more than seven billion dollars. It’s debatable whether giving the world’s biggest retailer taxpayer money for a new headquarters is a good idea, but that’s beside the point. Using incentives to recruit employers and create local jobs is an economic-development strategy.

Unfortunately, an economic-development strategy increasingly focused on technology companies is at odds with a workforce-development strategy that isn’t creating nearly enough qualified developers and coders. In a recent survey of 1,246 St. Louis companies, more than 60 percent of technology firms were dissatisfied with the skill level of job applicants. Amazon itself cited a shortage of tech talent as the number one reason why St. Louis did not make the final cut of cities under consideration.

It wasn’t the lack of a large, world-class airport.

It wasn’t governmental fragmentation.

It wasn’t the troubled national brand St. Louis suffers from.

It was a lack of talent.

But what’s the solution?

Read more.


About Tom Finan

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *