OPINION: The future of work in Idaho

Thursday October 10, 2019

By Governor Brad Little

Today’s students are tomorrow’s workforce, and they will have to adapt to change in their careers more than any other generation before them.

In a word, they will have to be agile.

Technological advances and the anticipated automation of more jobs down the road mean families, schools, and colleges must push students toward a lifetime of embracing technological changes, problem solving, and continual training.

During lunch one day this week, I spoke to leaders in Idaho education and business at my summit on workforce development about how we can prepare today’s students for jobs of the future.

Four hours later, I moderated a panel of four university presidents at Boise Startup Week on ways to create an environment where innovation and entrepreneurs can thrive.

Two common themes emerged at both events: students need us to connect their education to the needs of employers, and employers need workers who have the capacity to grow and adapt to change.

Families, parents, schools, and colleges must work together to introduce not just skills in critical thinking and how to collaborate in diverse groups, but life skills as well. Together, we must teach kids to make good choices, show up, be curious, be disciplined, and roll with the punches.

Working together, we can point and incentivize students onto the right path.

And we have a strong foundation on which to work.

We are focusing our efforts on improving literacy, especially among the most challenged segments of our population, so they have a strong bedrock for future learning.

We are getting our kids college- and career-ready. More and more, our education system is focusing on soft skills and total wellbeing – physical, mental, and social – while at the same time pairing students with job prospects and teaching them nuts-and-bolts skills they can use in jobs every day.

The “talent pipeline” is already working, and there are numerous examples across the state in which business is proactively working with community colleges and universities to train students in programs that meet their specific industry needs. Business organizations are taking on a bigger role in shaping the discussion and priorities around education that leads to employment. State programs are bridging the gap between business and student by facilitating internships and apprenticeships because, after all, the best way to learn a job is by doing it. Additionally, there is a greater focus on STEM skills now than any other time in Idaho’s history.

And the outstanding research taking place at our universities gives entrepreneurs and innovators an outlet to come up with new products, services, and ideas. In fact, the $20,000 winners at Boise Startup Week were the founders of self-cleaning toilet seat Washie, a product that originated from a grant awarded to Idaho State University from the Idaho Department of Commerce’s Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission program. It is the perfect example of the program having the desired effect.

In America, we do not take our children at an early age and assign them a profession. The magic of American free enterprise is that we all have the freedom to choose and, yes, freedom to fail.

I choose to join many partners in working together in Idaho to keep the momentum going in the direction of success. Families, business, educators, and government in Idaho are all committed to working toward the same thing: to prepare today’s young people to be happy, productive, and of course, agile, into the future.

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