More than just high school grads needed to fill Nevada’s jobs

CARSON CITY — Nevada, especially western Nevada, is suffering from an acute shortage of skilled labor — especially in the trades.

And Frank Woodbeck, vice chancellor for workforce development at the university system, says they must look beyond graduating high school seniors to fill that need.

“The challenge is marketing to student bodies of all ages,” he told the Northern Nevada Development Authority’s monthly breakfast at the Carson Nugget. “Not just high schoolers but people who are 30 to 40 years old.”

He said there are some 638,000 Nevadans “who have not availed themselves of post secondary education.” He said that’s 20 percent of the state’s population.

But Woodbeck emphasized he isn’t just talking about them going to college. He said post secondary education means getting training for a career beyond high school, whether that’s university, community college, apprenticeship or other programs.

“The goal is to figure out how we tap into that population,” he said, adding the goal of his office, “is to meet the industry demands of existing businesses here, the ones we’re growing in Nevada and the ones we’re trying to attract here.”

“We are not going to fill all the openings we need to fill with folks in high school now, community college now, university now,” Woodbeck said.

He said that means finding ways to get those people who came out of high school with or without a diploma interested in career and technical education programs, to provide a “pipeline” for them to get into those programs that will provide them with a career.

He said that’s the long-term fix but “in the near term, I’m not sure you can fix it.”

Bob Potts, research director for the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, said one major issue is the high rate of unemployment among younger people and the challenge is “getting those discouraged workers back in the labor force.”

Potts said Nevada has more than recovered the 186,000 jobs lost during the recession, adding 236,000 jobs. He said key target sectors are growing including healthcare, IT and manufacturing. But he said the top problem that businesses point to remains the availability of a qualified workforce.

Woodbeck said parents who have been convinced they should push children to go to a four-year college need to take a broader look at the economy.

“The fact is welders make more than lawyers to start out,” he said. “Parents really have to look at where the opportunities are for their kids and figure out what’s best for that youngster.”

He said his job along with the Department of Education, K-12 school districts, community colleges and universities as well as businesses is to help pave the way to do that.


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