In July 2019, Governor Mike Parson signed into law Senate Bill 68, which created the Fast Track Workforce Incentive Grant. The legislation was intended to address Missouri’s current and future workforce needs by covering the entire cost for adults to complete a certificate, bachelor’s degree, or an industry-recognized certification in a field deemed to be in high demand.
In an interview with Missourinet Leroy Wade, Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development, he emphasized that the grant would focus primarily on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) areas, which are in great demand both in Missouri and nationwide. STEM areas also include healthcare professions which of course are science-based. Lawmakers set aside $10 million for fiscal year 2020 to pay for the program.
What are the Workforce Needs in Missouri?
According to Missouri’s Long-Term Top Openings, the Show-Me State is projected to have more than 3.6 million job openings by 2026. Out of the 20 occupations the state believes will be in greatest demand, Office and Administrative Support, Registered Nurse, and General and Operations Managers rank at the top. Data from the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center indicate the fastest growing occupations will be home & personal health aides, solar photovoltaic installers, information security analysts, and software developers. These occupations are in line with programs intended for the Fast Track Workforce Incentive Grant.
Show-Me Unemployment Rates to Spike Soon
Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, Missouri’s unemployment rate was 3.3%, ranking 30th. Within the state, Laclede County had the highest rate of unemployed workers at 10.1%, while Scotland County stood at 2.4%. Of course, these numbers are all but certain to spike, and rapidly. With large numbers of Missourians soon filing for unemployment benefits, having programs available that will enable them to re-train or improve their skills while they’re furloughed could be a tremendous benefit to them as well as to businesses and industries across the state. But, are the programs approved by the state the programs our residents will need when they find themselves in need of retraining?
State Approved Fast Track Programs
There are currently 48 technical schools, community colleges, and four-year universities that have been approved to offer a total of 1620 programs intended to meet Missouri’s high-demand workforce needs. These institutions have been labeled as Fast Track Eligible institutions, meaning they receive state funds from the grant.
But, are Missouri’s taxpayers footing the bill to fund programs that aren’t really in high demand?
OneMissouri compiled a list of state-approved programs offered by all 48 Fast Track Eligible institutions, and we were surprised by what we saw. While a large number of the programs meet the criteria for high-demand STEM occupations, an alarming number do not. For example, Speech & Drama are not high-demand areas. Nor are Elementary Education, Coaching, Bank Teller Development or Accounting. In fact, 219 programs approved for the Fast Track Workforce Incentive Grant are related to teaching and business. While some of those teaching programs are related to science, mathematics, and technology, many were not.
The question then becomes, “Why?”
Why did the Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development approve programs that don’t fit within the parameters of SB68 and the Fast Track Workforce Incentive Grant? Did the Department review applications as closely as they should have? Are Missouri taxpayers paying institutions to offer programs that won’t meet our workforce needs over the next 5-10 years? We need some answers.
Originally posted on One Missouri. Re-posted with permission.
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