Dispatch Editorial: Lawmakers should include workforce development in state budget

With birthrates and unemployment rates dropping and experienced workers retiring, it is more important than ever for students coming out of Ohio high schools and colleges to be ready to work.

Making sure state government does what it can to support workforce readiness is the job of Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, and he is seeking about $100 million in the next state budget toward that goal. It would be money well-spent.

In a recent editorial board meeting with The Dispatch, Husted outlined several programs to be beefed up in efforts to better align industry and employer needs with capabilities demonstrated by those graduating from high schools, career tech schools, community colleges and four-year universities.

About half the funds that Husted is asking legislators to provide in the nearly $69 billion two-year state budget would go toward career tech education, some of which would allow students leaving high school to immediately begin working in well-paying jobs.

By taking advantage of state-paid college credits that students can earn at no cost to them, graduates can leave high school with a two-year associate degree to go with their diploma.

Husted cited the example of a young man who is heading from high school to a $60,000-a-year job with an employer ready to pay for his last two years of college to earn a mechanical engineering degree. Another graduate is working as a licensed phlebotomist out of high school at a hospital that will help pay her college tuition so she can pursue her goal to be a physician.

Such focused and motivated individuals are inspiring and may not be the norm, but Husted believes state programs designed to build bridges between local educators and employers can enable more such stories.

“The states that get it right will prosper; the ones that don’t will fall behind,” Husted said.

The Dispatch agrees with Husted that a key is helping students identify interests early on — even as soon as middle school — that can put them on a path to an in-demand occupation. Efforts to attract high school students to technical training are working; at a Butler County career center, 2,000 students applied for 800 slots.

For those already in the workforce, Husted is seeking about $15 million a year to help workers obtain credentials in one of 236 in-demand occupations, such as certified robotics technician.

Paying only for completion, the state would reimburse employers between $500 and $2,000 per credential for employees who complete training and pass certification tests to upgrade their job skills, giving employees portable skills adding as much as $10 an hour to workers’ wages and giving employers a better-trained workforce.

With Ohio ranking second nationally in using robots in the workforce, certified robotics technicians are in demand, Husted said.

Seemingly at odds with Husted’s goal of helping those already in the workforce to earn certificates and degrees, the House inserted language in House Bill 166, the biennial budget, to block state financial aid for students of Western Governors University, a nonprofit online program approved in the previous budget to serve Ohio students.

That move was attributed to competition concerns of brick-and-mortar institutions including Ohio University. Husted called WGU an “affordable model” that should be restored in Senate changes to HB 166, and we concur.

Read original editorial here.

rob nichols