An economist who studies the local labor market and an area employer whose business relies on skilled labor both say a community college would improve eastern Idaho’s economic prospects in coming years.
Bonneville County voters will go to the polls May 16 to decide whether to create a community college district that would convert Eastern Idaho Technical College into the College of Eastern Idaho.
Hope Morrow is a regional economist with the Idaho Department of Labor. She said the department recently finished projections for Idaho’s labor market.
The projections indicate that Idaho will have a “workforce gap” amounting to 50,000 jobs by 2024. Those are jobs that employers will want to fill but won’t be able to because of a shortage of qualified employees. And half are expected to require more than a high school diploma.
Eastern Idaho’s labor market is projected to have lots of jobs in health care, nuclear energy and high-tech manufacturing — jobs that usually require degrees or technical certifications, Morrow said.
“We can’t fill those jobs without a place to educate the workforce,” Morrow said.
That’s a key difference between what Eastern Idaho Technical College is able to offer and what a proposed community college would make available, she said.
“One little technical college with 20 programs can’t cover all those specializations, but a community college can,” she said.
Doug Sayer is co-founder and chief business officer of Premier Technology, a high-tech manufacturer based in Blackfoot. If a community college is flexible and ready to work with local employers, it would benefit his business to set up a career pipeline to train future workers, he said.
“We are very proactive and ready to engage in internships,” he said.
Sayer said his business has often had trouble finding qualified workers.
“It’s very difficult. That’s why we have our own program,” he said.
Sayer said about a decade ago his company attempted to partner with colleges to train workers that his company could employ. The company bought an expensive robotic welding machine. But without a local community college, he said, Premier ultimately placed it in Technical Careers High School, and his company set up an in-house training program.
Sayer said the pace of technological innovation in high-tech manufacturing requires an up-to-date education. Five years ago he could work every machine in his shop, he said. Today, he can’t work any of them.
“That’s how fast the technology has changed,” Sayer said.
New skills such as 3D printing are in high demand, but there are few workers to fill those jobs, he said.
Sayer declined to say what a trained worker could expect to make at Premier Technology, but he said it’s above the state’s median household income of about $48,000.
There is evidence that eastern Idaho high school graduates are underserved by existing education options, Morrow said. In the area around North Idaho College, 38 percent of graduates go to community college. It’s 30 percent near the College of Southern Idaho and 18 percent near the College of Western Idaho.
But in eastern Idaho, she said, less than 6 percent of high school graduates go on to a community college.
“There’s a lot of room to build and benefit our entire region,” Morrow said.
Reporter Bryan Clark can be reached at 542-6751.