Making a difference in narrowing the skills gap

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the health care industry will add more than 4 million jobs between now and 2022. Among the several reasons for that projection cited by the bureau:

• An aging population. The number of people ages 65 and older is projected to grow by 40 percent between now and 2022 — the fastest of any age group. And compared to younger people, older people typically have greater health care needs

• More people are expected to seek treatment for chronic conditions such as diabetes and obesity

• Improvements in medicine and technology are increasing

All this would be good news for job seekers. Unfortunately, too many of these job seekers don’t possess the required skills to fill these available jobs. Businesses continue to blame a skills gap for not filling positions, or filling them with skilled workers from other countries.

One solution to this dilemma is found in Yellow Medicine County. The Independent on Tuesday reported on a unique medical careers program offered to high school students around the Granite Falls area. Fifteen students from Yellow Medicine East, Lakeview, MACCRAY, Montevideo and Renville County West just completed a semester-long class last week at Minnesota West Community and Technical College.

“This program has been years in the planning, but may now serve as a new model for delivering career and technical education courses in the region,” Tom Hoff said. He is the career and technical project coordinator at Southwest West Central Service Cooperative. “It’s a program that matches regional labor market needs.”

The Independent report said the students were high school juniors and seniors who met twice a week, but also did online work and job shadowing at various facilities in the area. The involved schools were willing to take on a new approach to deliver career and technical education. The participating school districts also supplied a per seat tuition to help make the program sustainable.

“This took courage and commitment to be part of something that is very different from the typical school experience,” Hoff said.

But this is the type of creativity and education innovation that will pay off dividends for the student’s future and economic stability. And it may also help close that skills gap.