February 17th, 2011

READ THE REPORT: The Skills Gap: Reversing Washington’s Lack of Skilled Workers Through Early Learning

On February 17, 2011, America’s Edge released a new report in Washington State offering investments in high quality early care and education as a solution to reversing the workforce “skills gap” in Washington State.

Click here to read the full report: The Skills Gap: Reversing Washington’s Lack of Skilled Workers Through Early Learning

Contact: Mike Kiernan, mkiernan@americasedge.org
Office: 202-464-7016
Cell:  202-412-7579

Washington Business Leaders’ Report Shows Quality Early Learning as

Key to Reversing Growing Skills Gap in Workforce

Edwards, Kreinen and Beehler release report calling on state and federal lawmakers 
to ensure a skilled workforce through high-quality early learning programs

OLYMPIA, WASHINGTON — (February 17, 2011) A skills gap that resulted in 10,000 jobs in Washington State going unfilled at the height of the recession poses a serious threat to the state’s long-term economic prospects, three prominent business leaders said today.  The business leaders released a report calling on lawmakers to prioritize investments in voluntary high-quality early learning programs as one key solution to the problem.

Mike Edwards, director of Thurston First Bank, Sue Krienen, refinery manager of Shell Oil Products USA in Anacortes, and Pat Beehler, senior professional land surveyor with David Evans and Associates, said that despite a terrible economy, thousands of jobs are not being filled in Washington State because of the skills gap, a problem that has been accelerated by the recession.

Also attending the press conference was a bi-partisan group of prominent state legislators including Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, Sen. Steve Litzow, Rep. Roger Goodman and Rep. Maureen Walsh.

The three corporate representatives said Washington State must take action now to ensure the skill levels of the state’s future workforce will meet the demands of Washington State businesses.  They said high-quality early learning programs would give the state the best return for its educational investment by helping create a ready supply of skilled workers.

The business leaders – all members of the national business group America’s Edge – called on Olympia lawmakers and Washington State’s Congressional delegation to prioritize access to early learning programs. They urged lawmakers to provide incentives to school districts to continue to move from the traditional K-through-12 model to one which integrates early learning into the education model – an early education to graduation approach – while holding the line against program funding cuts.

According to the report released at the press conference, one in four companies trying to hire in Washington State in late 2009 and early 2010 had trouble finding qualified job applicants.  As a result, more than 10,000 jobs went unfilled over the period, despite 300,000 state residents on the unemployment rolls, the report said.

Among the report’s other major findings:

  • Half of all new jobs created nationwide between 2008 and 2018 will require formal education beyond high school;
  • By 2018, 67 percent of all jobs in Washington State will require postsecondary education;
  • The Washington Workforce and Training Education Coordinating Board predicts that demand for mid-skill jobs will exceed supply by 2013 in the Evergreen State.

“In Washington State, we expect 20,000 nursing jobs to come open in the next five years, but 25 percent will likely go unfilled,” said Edwards. “Gaps are even larger for aircraft mechanics with 79 percent potentially going unfilled. Our report also points to large skill gaps among accountants and bookkeepers with 66 percent unfilled, and installation, maintenance and repair workers with 60 percent unfilled.”

“Our economy has lost billions because of an unskilled workforce,” said Edwards, noting that each class of high school dropouts in the U.S. will earn $335 billion less than if they had received their high school diplomas, reducing spending power and contributions to the tax base. “If we want sustainable economic security, we must remedy this unsustainable situation.”

According to research cited in the report, many business executives expect the skills gap to widen, with four in ten manufacturing companies nationwide expecting the shortage of skilled workers to worsen and three out of four executives saying that workers’ “soft” skills – communication, collaboration and critical thinking – will grow in importance due to increased global competition and the quickening pace of change in the business environment.

The business leaders emphasized that investing in high-quality early learning programs was a necessary step in providing Washington State with a better-educated and better-skilled workforce.

The report cited research by University of Chicago economist and Nobel Prize winner James Heckman that found high-quality early learning helps children develop the soft skills that Heckman argues are prerequisite tools for future learning. Further, a study of Oklahoma’s pre-kindergarten program reinforced Heckman’s findings; it discovered that children who participated in the program demonstrated greater social and emotional maturity upon entering kindergarten than their peers who did not.

The report also cited long-term studies in various states.  A study of children who attended the intensive Abecedarian infant and toddler development program in North Carolina were 74 percent more likely to hold a skilled job by age 21 than children left out of the program.  A study of Chicago’s Child-Parent Centers, which has served over 100,000 three- and four-year-olds since 1967, found that children attending the program were 40 percent less likely to need special education or to be held back a grade and 15 percent less likely to drop out of school than kids who did not attend.

“Research shows that early learning programs can help children develop the foundations for both the hard and increasingly important ‘soft’ communications skills,” said Krienen. “These are the tools that give kids a jump-start on success in school and, ultimately, in the workforce.”

Similarly, researchers have followed two groups of at-risk, low-income 3- and 4-year-olds from Michigan for four decades and found that children who attended the high-quality Perry Preschool were 44 percent more likely to earn high school diplomas than their peers who did not attend.

The business leaders called on Washington State legislators to hold the line against cuts in funding for the state’s Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program, and asked the state’s congressional delegation in Washington, D.C., to support the integration of early learning into the K-12 model when considering reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, known as No Child Left Behind in its last renewal.

“The jobs of the future, just like many of the best jobs today, will not be open to candidates who don’t have the education and training needed to qualify,” said Mr. Beehler. “Too few young people are getting the education and training they need to join an increasingly tech-driven workforce.”

Edwards, Krienen and Beehler are members of America’s Edge, a national business leaders organization composed of business owners and members of senior business management, with over 400 members nationwide.