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Idaho, Lewis county workforce shrinking

Tonya Smith with Blue North Forest Products in Kamiah discusses the area’s strengths and weaknesses.

Photo by Lorie Palmer
Tonya Smith with Blue North Forest Products in Kamiah discusses the area’s strengths and weaknesses.



IDOL reps compile local strengths, weaknesses

Who to contact:

• Diane Hairston, business service specialist, 799-5000, ext. 4132, diane.hairston@la...

• Kathryn Tacke, regional labor economist, 799-5000, ext. 3984, kathryn.tacke@lab...

• JoAnna Henry, unemployment insurance tax representative, 364-7781, ext. 3146, Joanna.nery@labor...

• Lorna Marion, wage and hour laws, 332-3579, ext. 3845, lorna.marion@labo...

• Sage Stoddard, manager, Grangeville office, 983-0440, sage.stoddard@lab...

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Idaho Department of Labor held a “Community Conversation about Labor” meeting in Grangeville Sept. 16, at the Soltman Center, with about 25 people in attendance. Here, Christine Frei with Clearwater Economic Development Association discusses a program CEDA has been involved with to help reinforce the education of skilled workers.

More than 25 people gathered at the Soltman Center Wednesday, Sept. 16, to for the Labor Community Conversation with Idaho Department of Labor employees.

Representatives from a variety of organizations and businesses were there, including Clearwater Economic Development Association, Grangeville and Kamiah chambers of commerce, Lindsley’s Home Furnishings, Syringa and St. Mary’s hospitals, Askers Harvest Foods, Framing Our Community, H&R Block, HillCo, Super 8/Gateway, Blue North Forests and Idaho Forest Group. No city or county government officials were in attendance.

Topics included identifying and defining the community's workforce needs; how business and education can partner with labor to meet the demand for skilled workers; national, state and local labor market conditions; and an overview of how IDOL can help meet employment needs.

Regional labor economist for North Central Idaho, Kathryn Tacke, used a variety of statistics to explain why it looks as if Idaho will be especially short in the workforce department through at least 2022.

“If the workforce only grows as it has, and the jobs grow as they have, there will be 91,400 unfilled jobs,” she explained.

This is due in part, she said to 65 and older population (retirement age) growing while the 16-year-old population – about the age a person can enter the workforce – decreases. Basically, Tacke explained, there are far fewer 16 year olds to replace the 65 year olds.

“You can only have as much economic growth as your future workforce allows,” she explained.

“16 to 65 year olds are who make industry grow, right?” asked Ted Lindsley. “We cannot have any growth in our workforce without manufacturing, industry.” Lindsley spoke about a Catch-22 system where there aren’t skilled workforce laborers so manufacturing doesn’t want to come to the area.

“Maybe we need to look at ways to help change our population age group,” he said.

In Idaho and Lewis counties, the main employers are public administration (government) jobs at 1,640, which includes the Forest Service, postal and Bureau of Land Management. State jobs number about 180 and that includes correctional facilities and Winchester State Park, while local jobs include schools, Syringa Hospital and the Nez Perce Tribe, numbering about 1,070 jobs.

Tacke said, according to IDOL data, about half of Idaho County workers work outside of Idaho County, about 1,200 workers. However, about 1,300 commute from other counties to Idaho County to work.

Tacke also shared the state of Idaho class of 2013 “Go On” statistics that show how many students, 16 months post-graduation, are enrolled in colleges and universities. The national average is 62 percent while the Idaho average is 52 percent. Prairie High School (Cottonwood) student rates are 72 percent, followed by Highland (Craigmont) at 69 percent, Kamiah at 68 percent, Mountain View School District (Grangeville and Kooskia) at 66 percent, Nezprce at 50 percent and Salmon River (Riggins) at 36 percent.

“Are there any statistics for students who have gone the technical route or who have been certified in certain areas?” asked Jeff Kutner, Alpine Motors owner also representing the Grangeville Chamber of Commerce.

“Unfortunately, the tracking and follow-up on professional-technical has not been good. Many parents and educators and others have not perceived tech ed as good enough,” said Ken Edmunds, IDOL director. “We’re trying to change that perception as well as keep better track.”

Kutner said she feels this is important as many jobs in Idaho County and beyond do not require a four-year college degree, though they do require post-high-school technical education.

Participants divided into two groups and discussed the strengths and weaknesses of their workforce and communities. Strengths included loyalty, work ethic, lower crime and tax rates and quality of life while weaknesses mentioned included lack of technical skills, a sense of entitlement, lack of housings, distance/travel issues, lack of high speed internet for all and a limited amount of training opportunities close to home.

“There are no magic bullets, but we want to know what to push for statewide and locally,” Edmunds told the group when he asked for their input. “Rural Idaho is scary economically. Seriously, we are not doing well.”

The community conversations have bene held throughout the state. The meeting also listed a variety of services available to local business owners and employees including that of Diane Hairston, business and service specialist. She said she can help with customized recruitment and hiring, business seminars, skills assessments for potential employees and wages, workforce and economic information.

“Your tax dollars are paying for these services – utilizing these services is a way to put those dollars back in your pocket,” Hairston said.

Sara Espeland of the Grangeville Department of Labor Office added they are able to take some of the pressure of employers by offering a variety of skills tests to potential employees.

“We have done a variety of customized tests but also have some standard typing, Quickbooks and health care tests available,” she explained. “There are literally hundreds.”



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