Businessmen Ron Nilson, owner of Ground Force Manufacturing in Post Falls, and Doug Sayer, president of Premier Technologies in Pocatello, teamed up Tuesday to deliver some fiery and, at times, confrontational messages to lawmakers. The two appeared before a joint session of the House and Senate education committees to discuss business involvement in developing professional technical education in Idaho.
The two men, both self-made business owners who began in entry-level positions and eventually rose to the top, offered grave forecasts for the education and employment future in Idaho. The men called on lawmakers to integrate professional technical skills at every level of education to develop a more educated and capable workforce, an asset which both men believe is in short supply in the state right now. Sayer said production and manufacturing companies are facing an “Armageddon” situation if the state doesn’t work to correct imbalances in the workforce.
“The hardest time for me in business was when I couldn’t find employees to fill jobs,” said Sayer. The two men also reminded lawmakers of the looming worker shortage, predicting that within five years, more than half of the workforce will retire. Sayer speculated that as the country rises out of the recession, those who should have retired during poor economic times will see an increase in their 401ks, thus leading them into retirement. Sayer called on lawmakers to take thelead on the issue and thus setting the stage for Idaho to become the standard in private and public sector educational partnerships.
Both criticized almost every aspect of Idaho’s education system, with Nilson claiming that the state is losing kids on every level, but particularly in the grades leading up to high school because no one holds students accountable for their work previous to ninth grade. Sayer said education opportunities for those who drop out of school and return later to night school or adult education programs are “substandard at best.”
Nilson also addressed the psychological aspects of education as it relates to professional technical jobs in Idaho. He cautioned that parents, guidance counselors, and teachers need to stop telling students that skill-heavy jobs, such as welding, plumbing, or electrical work, are dead end jobs. He said that in his company, a student with a high school diploma or equivalent can start out at $13.75 an hour, or about $28,000 per year and full benefits package. Though for many, the American dream is for every child to graduate from college with a 4 year-degree, it is a dream not achieved by all, reminded Nilson. He said his businesses like his don’t need workers with degrees, they need kids with state-certified skill sets with good work habits, a quality which Nilson believes is lacking in the students of today.
To move forward, the state needs to change the way it delivers education in Idaho. Sayer said he wants the state to consider pay for performance programs for teachers, which, he believes, will incentivize teachers to become more involved in the education of their students. He also said the state must integrate professional-technical teachings at every level, beginning in kindergarten. The state must also work to provide a well-rounded program for students who choose professional –technical programs because the types of workers the state needs are those with experience and knowledge in engineering, business, and a technical skills, said Sayer.
Another strategy vital to the success of the public and private sector partnership is the utilization of internships throughout schooling. Though schooling is necessary to learn the basics, Sayer said, internships allow students real experience and the ability to keep up with state-of-the-art procedures and production methods.
Sayer also urged the state to not delay action on the matter and to use recession-forced higher enrollment numbers at state colleges and universities as a catalyst for the shifting in priorities.
“You have got to be moving at hyper speed,” said Sayer.
(Note: State education Superintendent Tom Luna was in attendance of the presentation by the two businessmen and you can read his response here.)