What do ex-offenders cleaning up hazardous waste sites, nursing trainees helping patients in rural communities, and hydrologists restoring a salmon bed have in common?
They all are, in some cases, products of training programs recognized for their ability to help stimulate the economy.
Effective workforce programs not only help prepare Washington workers for jobs, they also provide a steady flow of work-ready employees who add productivity and profitability to a business owner’s bottom line.
When a business has all the talent it needs to succeed, growth usually happens. And that growth inevitably leads to more hires and more opportunities for Washington’s workers.
In recent years, the state’s Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board has worked with its many partners, including the state’s Department of Commerce, in selecting the Governor’s Best Practice Awards in Workforce and Economic Development.
The idea behind the award is to look for — and reward — programs that hone in on the intersection between skilled workers, jobs, and business growth. In other words, does the program target the skills needed by employers and result in workers obtaining jobs or enhancing their skills in ways that help boost an employer’s productivity?
Creating a program that does all of that is not an easy task, but it’s an increasingly necessary one. Budget cutbacks and a backlog of over 300,000 unemployed workers are putting more pressure on Washington’s worker training programs to do more with less — and deliver results on a faster track.
At the same time, too many Washington employers continue to struggle to find qualified candidates with the right skills and credentials they need to keep their business on the cutting edge.
Below are three Governor’s Best Practice Award winners that break new ground in advancing Washington workers, businesses and our economy:
Walla Walla Community College Water & Environmental Center: Faced with the challenges of restoring a watershed, recovering fish runs, and better managing limited resources, organizations in the Walla Walla Valley came together to create this unique environmental center, which opened in 2007.
The center fosters innovation and collaboration in water management and sustainable environmental practices, while preparing specialists capable of making proposed solutions a reality. The project will have created 27 family-wage jobs by summer’s end and will continue to provide the setting and the intellectual capacity to protect a central element in Eastern Washington’s economy: water.
Rural Outreach Nursing Education (RONE): This project addresses a chronic nursing shortage by providing nursing education to rural areas through classes delivered over the web. Perhaps few services are more essential to rural economies than access to health care. Yet, recruiting and retaining health care professionals is expensive and not always successful. RONE makes it possible for rural communities to train willing residents.
Participating rural hospitals, clinics and other outpatient facilities provide hands-on clinical experience as part of this two-year associate degree registered nurse program through Lower Columbia College in Longview. Instead of driving hundreds of miles for classes, participants can do their coursework online at home. In December of 2010, just over a dozen nurses received their nursing pins as part of RONE’s first graduating class.
King County Jobs Initiative (KCJI): This program helps those who have been incarcerated move beyond the stigma of jail time and into living-wage “green jobs.” Started in 1998, the program has served over 2,200 disadvantaged south King County residents, placing over 1,500 into jobs. In 2007, KCJI began focusing on former inmates.
A partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency allows the program to train people for a variety of high-demand environmental cleanup jobs, including asbestos removal which pays between $35 and $40 per hour. Others have been trained to work with ground water and wastewater, or are employed by construction and environmental cleanup companies. This is a training program that improves the lives of the participants but also the bottom line of the hiring companies by providing a steady source of well-trained employees.
With the Governor’s Best Practice awards, successful worker training programs throughout the state are getting recognized, and hopefully, replicated. These winning programs offer a powerful lesson on how to harness workforce and economic development in pursuit of the ultimate goal: preparing workers for real jobs waiting at the other end.
After all, when we do that, our businesses are able to grow, expanding Washington’s economy and creating still more jobs for workers who need them.