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Perspective: Improving workforce development in Missouri

Perspective: Improving workforce development in Missouri

June 11th, 2018 by State Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City in Opinion

Earlier this session, I read with interest and amusement a quote attributed to Thomas Edison: "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." With all due respect to Mr. Edison and his abilities as an inventor, he might have been an even better prophet.

As I talk with large and small businesses across multiple industries, they continually articulate two main concerns. First is finding skilled employees, and a very close second is finding skilled employees who are willing to work hard. In many instances these businesses are almost desperate for skilled employees and are willing to pay them excellent wages for their efforts.

The state of Missouri is not, and cannot ever be, about the business of motivating individuals to work hard. However, we can play a role in helping to ensure Missourians have access to education and training that build upon personal interests and abilities to prepare them for a career that meets the real needs of employers.

Too often we, as a state, succumb to the false notion that education and training only comes via a four-year college degree. However, many employers are in critical need of employees who are skilled and trained far differently. Construction companies in need of welders have little cause to look at the traditional college graduate, just as the young man or woman who is interested in welding as a career has little cause to look to the traditional four-year institution to prepare them for a job as a welder.

Fortunately, we are slowly but surely breaking out of the myopic "high school to college to work" view to better educate students while also preparing them for a career.

In previous reports, I have committed to highlighting legislation passed during the recently concluded session. One very important piece, designed to improve workforce development across the state, is House Bill 1415. HB1415 builds upon the previous efforts of Sen. Jay Wasson and Sen. Brian Munzlinger to provide vocational education in high schools, community colleges and technical schools to meet the specific needs of employers. It gives school districts the freedom to rely on technical coursework and skills assessments developed for industry-recognized certificates and credentials when entering into workforce training partnerships with businesses.

With this change, districts will have the authority to modify their curriculum to match the industry standards and requirements of the businesses for whom they are training employees. Additionally, instead of requiring students to take the traditional ACT college assessment, HB1415 allows students to take the ACT WorkKeys assessment required for the National Career Readiness Certification.

Finally, HB1415 extends the Missouri Works Training Program to 2030. Missouri Works is the state's No. 1 economic tool for attracting and developing small businesses, and ensuring the continued viability of the program will help Missouri stay competitive.

Legislation like HB1415 may not be the topic of discussion on the nightly news or in the coffee shop, but it is critically important to the state of Missouri. Using a football analogy, workforce development legislation is similar to blocking and tackling. It is essential for success, but it may not make the highlight reel like a long touchdown pass. I am grateful for Wasson's leadership on this important bill and I look forward to the positive effects of HB1415 on businesses throughout the state.

State Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, represents the 6th District, and shares his perspective on statehouse issues each week.