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Back in November, Kerry Frederickson shared his concerns about the future of the skilled trades in Oregon. As he explained in his piece for the Portland Business Journal, the demand for plumbers, electricians, and machinists is growing rapidly, and the workers with the skills necessary to fill these new positions are retiring at an even faster rate. To make matters worse, younger workers aren’t choosing careers in the trades and are instead opting for college rather than trade schools or apprenticeships. Unchecked, this trend leads to a future where production slows and labor costs rise because there just aren’t enough skilled tradesmen and women to get all the work done.

Fortunately this problem is widely recognized and is being addressed right here in Oregon through collaborative efforts between the public and private sectors towards improving the state of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education and directing qualified students towards Career Technical Education (CTE) paths.

Oregon’s public education system is ground zero in these efforts. With the passage of the Carl D Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, the federal government now provides financial support towards improving STEM and CTE training. To take advantage of these funds, Oregon was required to develop a State Plan for Career and Technical Education aimed at reforming STEM and CTE education in its public schools.

The state’s efforts focus largely on encouraging students to participate in job shadowing, work-based learning, internships, and other experimental learning opportunities. In addition, Oregon’s Program of Study will place greater emphasis on providing students with an understanding of the knowledge and skill requirements necessary to enter into these high skill, high pay, and high demand career fields and support them with improved advice and guidance as they plot out their own paths towards careers in the skilled trades.

Oregon is also working to increase collaboration between education providers and employers through the CTE Revitalization Grant, passed in 2011. These grant funds support public school programs that train students in skills that are directly applicable to the current needs of employers. Since the grant’s inception, schools across the state have received nearly $13 million in support of revitalizing CTE programs.

The state’s efforts at improving STEM and CTE education are supported by a broad group of Oregon employers. With the formation of the Oregon CTE-Stem Employer Coalition, the Oregon Business Council has gathered businesses from the high tech, health care, and labor sectors, and focused their voices towards advocating for increased investments in math, science, and technical education programs throughout Oregon.

The skilled labor gap has broad implications for consumers, employers, and government agencies and it’s in everyone’s interest to find a workable solution. Hopefully, with a more focused approach towards CTE & STEM education from state and federal agencies and with the cooperation of concerned employers, the skilled wage gap will soon be a thing of the past.

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