By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
PITTSBURG, Kan. —
Pittsburg was the last stop Tuesday afternoon for a group of state officials touring Kansas to promote the state’s effort to build a certified, highly qualified work force for business and industry.
In a meeting with city and university leaders at the Kansas Technology Center at Pittsburg State University, Secretary of Commerce Pat George said the group is working with the business community and post-secondary schools to ensure more graduates have industry certifications, and that existing and new businesses are aware of that.
“Gov. Brownback made something clear, and that was that he wanted to create the best business environment in the nation here in Kansas,” George said.
Industry-endorsed, third party credentials from post-secondary schools are critical to that effort, he said, because they offer greater hireability and the potential to earn more, and ensure an employee is truly ready for the work force from Day 1.
“It’s predicted that in more than 60 percent of the jobs in the future you’ll need some sort of advanced education, some sort of technical skills,” George said.
According to data collected by the Department of Labor, as of October there were 43,000 job openings across the state. The highest need is for registered nurses, truck drivers and computer specialists.
“For high demand jobs, we need a well-prepared work force to support them,” said Interim Secretary of Labor Lana Gordon.
Blake Flanders, vice president of work force development for the Kansas Board of Regents, said the recent passage of Senate Bill 155 was an important step in the process. It allows high school juniors and seniors to enroll tuition-free in community college technical courses, and awards high schools with $1,000 per participating student.
“What we’ve heard from industry is we want more,” said Flanders of specialized certifications.
Ivan Crossland, the chief executive officer of Crossland Construction in Columbus, spoke in support of increasing the number of graduates with industry certifications.
“We’re 100 percent behind this initiative and we’re excited,” he said. “The key is we need to make (certifications) portable, so they can go from one state to another state.”
Crossland, who employs about 800, noted that when he hires new employees, such certifications automatically qualify them to earn $2 more per hour.
Clayton Tatro, president of Fort. Scott Community College, said FSCC offers industry credentials in about eight disciplines. About 40 to 45 percent of the 250 students on track to graduate in May will hold such credentials.
Joe Levens, assistant professor in the School of Construction at PSU, said his department also offers several industry certifications and that the placement rate for graduates is close to 100 percent.
The tour was an extension of the Kansas Skills Summit held Oct. 29 in Wichita. It also included stops in Salina, Norton, Hutchinson, Winfield and Lenexa.
Gordon said the labor market is improving for Kansas. Statewide unemployment is at 5.7 percent, in contrast to 6.7 percent a year ago and the peak, 7.6 percent, in 2009.