Jan
31
2016

Your FIT offers opportunities for Idaho’s young adults

From the Idaho State Journal

By Stephanie Cook

I’d like to talk to you today about Melanie. She’s a junior at Marsh Valley High School. Or Century High School. Or Bear Lake. Or Snake River.

You see, though Melanie doesn’t actually exist, she is representative of thousands of students attending high schools in Southeast Idaho and throughout the state.

Times are tough, especially in small towns, and Melanie won’t be able to afford college without taking on a mountain of debt. Melanie doesn’t have four or five years to find her way. She needs to acquire skills quickly, attain on the job-training and find a permanent position — preferably one that pays a living wage and provides health insurance and retirement benefits.

Melanie needs our help. And the truth is that Idaho, its businesses and economy, needs Melanie. That’s why I’m so pleased the Idaho National Laboratory and a coalition of businesses, educators, local governments and economic development agencies in southeast Idaho have teamed up to make sure students such as Melanie have the information they need to create a bright future for themselves.

The creation of “Your Future in Technology” (Your FIT) was led by Bannock Development Corporation, Great Rift, 4 CASI Economic Development and Old Town Pocatello to inform students and their parents about the abundance of opportunity in technology-related fields.

We’re talking about jobs in welding, computerized machinery, instrumentation and controls technology, maintenance mechanics, nuclear operations, and informational, electrical and drone technology requiring only a two-year technical degree or certification.

The median hourly wage on these jobs ranges from $15.42 to $46.75 — annual salaries that begin at $32,064 and top out at $97,250.

Sound too good to be true? It’s not. Let me use INL to describe both need and opportunity.

Thirty percent of INL’s workforce is at least 50 years of age and approaching retirement. That “silver tsunami,” in combination with growing business volume, led to the lab hiring more than 500 new employees in 2015; INL can be expected to bring at least that many new employees in 2016.

These aren’t just the positions you normally associate with the lab— the folks in the white lab coats with advanced degrees from MIT in their pockets, or nuclear scientists and mechanical engineers. INL also needs skilled technicians who run our equipment and talented mechanics that maintain it and make repairs when breakdowns occur.

That’s one reason INL contributed a $22,410 grant to help develop Your FIT, donated seven tablets to be raffled and will participate in seven technical career fairs in participating counties to help get the word out about great jobs available to those with a two-year degree or certification.

Another reason INL is so enthusiastic about this project is the novel and creative approach taken by the local collaboration known as Your FIT.

These educators, industry leaders, economic development specialists and government officials understand the opportunities available to students in the region and are to be commended for pursuing an Idaho solution to one of our most pressing challenges.

We know that by 2018 — in two short years — 61 percent of jobs in Idaho will require a technical certificate or advanced degree and that only a third of our citizens will be qualified to fill them.

We know the Idaho Department of Labor projects a “workforce gap” of 91,400 by 2022. So it’s never been more important to feed the talent pipeline, to draw a straight line between education and employment.

That’s why former Idaho Department of Commerce Director Jeff Sayer urged lawmakers to focus on economic development and job training.

That’s why Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter created a budget that includes millions of dollars for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, career counseling and a tuition lock to get more students into higher education and keep them there.

That’s why INL is thrilled to be part of the Your FIT coalition. Yes, some of the students influenced by this effort will someday fill needed positions at the lab. Many, however, will not. They’ll return to their hometowns and work in technically related jobs, contribute to their communities, perhaps start a business, and raise their families.

And that’s something to celebrate because when Inkom prospers, we all prosper. When Moreland flourishes, we all flourish. When Pocatello thrives, we all thrive.

We’re all in this together. Together we will help businesses meet their workforce needs and offer students such as Melanie information they can use to create a bright future.

Stephanie Cook is the program manager for economic and workforce development at Idaho National Laboratory.