Opinion: Educated workforce and employers' needs

From the Springfield News-Leader, Dec. 27, 2012:

Springfield recently got some good economic news. According to data compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the average income in the area grew to nearly $36,000 in 2011, up 6.56 percent since 2001.

The bad news: Poverty in Greene County grew 85 percent in that same time, more than twice the national average.

The "wealth gap" has gotten wider, with fewer people resting in the middle between wealth and poverty — where more than 50,000 of our neighbors reside.

While corporate profits are at an all-time high — up more than 18 percent over last year — wages nationally are at an all-time low. The federal minimum wage is $7.25, although Missouri was set to raise its minimum to $7.35 on Jan. 1. Presuming a minimum-wage employee works 40 hours a week, every week (which is seldom the case with minimum-wage jobs), that is only $15,288 annually before taxes, an increase of $208, or just under 1.38 percent more.

But there is another good news/bad news story that involves the state of manufacturing in the region. Once the best place for an unskilled worker to find a good-paying, full-time job, the manufacturing industry has become increasingly sophisticated, requiring a well-trained — and well-paid — workforce.

Local manufacturers say they have more jobs than trained workers to do them. They also say that those jobs pay better than average. If training could keep pace, more people would have those jobs, they added.

More good news — there is training available, especially at Ozarks Technical Community College, where training programs are crafted to meet the needs of those local manufacturers.

The challenge for our community is to provide a trained workforce to keep industry here and attract more industry — while giving local residents a way to support their families.

It is significant that the state is holding colleges such as Missouri State University to a standard that emphasizes "critical workforce needs" by focusing on degrees in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and health care. This is a long-term solution to the state's need for a highly trained workforce and for reinvigorating a manufacturing industry.

But, OTC also is making important training possible for students who must work while attending school, have no interest in seeking a degree, have little money to spare for education and are often uncomfortable in an academic setting.

It is important that we support both approaches as we encourage manufacturing to improve everyone's future.

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