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A Short-term and Long-term Solution for Arizona’s Jobs Problem

We got some good (or, at least, not so bad) jobs-related news last week: the Arizona Department of Commerce has revised its 2010 job loss forecast from 2 percent to 1 percent - meaning that analysts expect a loss of 25,700 Arizonan jobs this year rather than a loss of 50,400.  The Republic quotes the department's director of economic analysis as saying that since April, when the last forecast was published "the economy has actually improved."

The report cites $255 million in federal stimulus dollars and improved private sector hiring as reasons for the smaller job loss figure.  For 2011, the department has forecasted a net job gain of 0.7 percent, or 16,500 jobs. That will be the first annual net job gain Arizona has seen in 3 years.

Yet according to the Republic "while Arizona is losing jobs for the third year in a row and its 9.7 percent unemployment rate is at a 27-year high, there are thousands of job openings., for example, listed about 7,300 jobs in Arizona on Thursday."

Joseph Tuerff, a spokesman for Manpower Inc., told the Republic that "Companies are having a tough time matching employees to the skills they need. . . Imagine how much we could help the economy if we could reduce the time it takes to fill those open jobs. And a lot of them pay really well."

While I would certainly prefer that companies were easily able to fill open positions with qualified candidates, the fact that there do seem to be positions open, even if employers are finding a skills mismatch, is somewhat heartening.  It's clearly better than the alternative of no open positions at all.

Yet something must be done to remedy the situation.  Over time, if employers continue to find difficulty hiring qualified candidates in the U.S., they could well turn to other countries - if those countries do have qualified candidates ready and willing to work (and a number do - often at a much lower price).  Consider what some of these prominent figures say about the issue:

  • "When I compare our high schools to what I see when I'm traveling abroad, I'm terrified for our workforce of tomorrow."

Bill Gates, Founder, Microsoft Corp.

  • "If you don't solve (the K-12 education problem), nothing else is going to matter all that much."

Alan Greenspan, Chairman, Federal Reserve

  • "We go where the smart people are. Now our business operations are two-thirds in the U.S. and one-third overseas. But that ratio will flip over (in) the next ten years."

Howard High, Spokesperson, Intel Corp.

  • "The worldwide competition of overall national strength is actually a competition for talents, especially for innovative talents."

President Hu, People's Republic of China

I think there are two answers: a short-term answer and a long-term answer.  The long-term answer is a K-12 education system that is the best in the world and (perhaps more importantly) is responsive to the U.S. economy's changing needs.  I'm not suggesting that we turn elementary school into a trade school for high-tech workers, but in a world where high-tech innovativeness will really determine the global leaders, students well-educated in basic science and math (and ready to dive into tech-related secondary education programs) is critical.

The short-term answer is to retrain those workers who are looking ­- but unable to find - jobs among the thousands of open positions today.  I read earlier this week about just such a program - it's in Connecticut but could just as easily be in Arizona.  The Associated Press article tells about a former real estate agent who is now training to be a utility line worker (not high-tech work per se, but it's in an obviously-critical industry that is populated largely by workers nearing retirement).

If Arizona's leaders are serious about becoming a hub for green technology, if we want to build an employment base fueled by more than population growth, if we want some of our 26,000 unemployed workers to fill those thousands of listed job openings, then it's time to get serious about preparing our workers, both immediately through job retraining programs and over the long-term through a world-class, adaptable education system.

Written on Monday, 11 October 2010 15:24 by Gary Yaquinto

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