Guest Commentary: Time to invest in Washington’s workforce is now

After spending time in a Moroccan refugee camp and taking steps toward a better future, Niklett “Nikki” Tadila and her daughter arrived in Spokane in 2017 and were exposed to some of the challenges that many in our community work hard to overcome.

Without the traditional education, essential workplace skills, and cultural awareness of her new environment, she realized that there were many things that needed to be adjusted if she wanted to fulfill the expectations of providing for her family.

Fortunately, Nikki connected with free employment and education development assistance from the career coaches at the Next Generation Zone, an employment and education center for young adults, ages 16 to 24. In a few months’ time, she secured an entry-level position in health care and continues to work on her high school equivalency diploma. Along the way, she quickly adapted to our community and is discovering the differences between the culture in which she was raised and the one where she hopes to grow her career.

The help Nikki received was made possible by investments in the local workforce system—your tax dollars at work empowering a network of community-based organizations and nonprofits to serve on the front lines of economic recovery. This statewide collaboration of local workforce development councils, which has existed in some form for over 80 years, serves nearly 78,000 Washingtonians every year and helps nearly 15,000 businesses fill vacant jobs.

Right now, tens of thousands of people are still on the sidelines of the labor market for various reasons, such as lacking affordable child care, or fearing COVID exposure for themselves or their families. Many need assistance to participate in the local and regional labor force. These people—who represent diverse races and ethnicities, immigrants and refugees, and rural residents—are in real danger of becoming trapped in a series of interconnected obstacles, without additional support.

At the same time, businesses are struggling to fill nearly 200,000 vacant jobs across the state, including thousands in critical industries like health care, education, manufacturing, and hospitality services. This is impeding our state’s economic recovery and hampering the ability of businesses of all sizes to recover and grow.

As lawmakers in Olympia debate critical measures for Washington’s economic recovery, now is the time to invest in local workforce solutions.

We recommend a $50 million state Workforce Innovation Fund to empower local solutions with flexible funding. We recommend lawmakers take advantage of the infrastructure that already exists—established funding, network of providers, community partners, WorkSource centers, and industry relationships—and build on it to produce better results for workers and businesses.

There have been no designated workforce investments through the federal CARES Act or the American Rescue Plan. Existing federal funds are inflexible and ill-equipped to meet the just-in-time demands caused by our new pandemic economy, which would leave behind 90% of those in need.

Our state can’t afford to leave people like Nikki behind. By investing in these local solutions, legislators can put a down payment on equitable economic recovery for better and stronger communities.

Mark Mattke serves as CEO at the Spokane Workforce Council. The council advises and funds the Spokane workforce system, which consists of two career centers and 20 affiliated sites across Spokane County.

Article Source: Spokane Journal