Investments needed in higher education and skills training to recover from pandemic, Oregon leaders say


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At a meeting of business leaders on Monday, Governor Kate Brown and the state’s director of higher education said the state needs to strengthen vocational training.

Ben Cannon, executive director of the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission, speaks Monday, December 6, about Oregon’s education needs. (Ron Cooper / Oregon Capital Chronicle)

Oregon cannot recoup the jobs lost during the pandemic and meet the needs of the industry without new investments in workforce training, heads of state said Monday.

Governor Kate Brown and Ben Cannon, executive director of the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission, made the point in speeches to an annual meeting of business leaders and government officials.

“If we come out of the pandemic with essentially the same higher education workforce systems that we had, we will continue to produce the same inequitable outcomes that so frustrate employers, educators and other Oregonians today.” Cannon said.

The two spoke at the leadership summit for Oregon’s business plan, which focuses on the state’s economic future. The governor and Cannon said without increased state investment in higher education, vocational skills training, certification programs and other post-secondary streams, many Oregonians will fall even further behind the pandemic. , the industry will face tighter labor markets and racial and socio-economic inequalities will increase.

Cannon called the investments under federal infrastructure legislation and potentially through the Build Back Better framework as a “one-time opportunity” to fund better access to state universities and colleges. He said there could be more apprenticeships and certified training in trades and manufacturing.

According to the Higher Education Coordinating Commission, overall enrollments at Oregon’s public colleges and universities have fallen 15% in the past two years. This is particularly acute at community colleges across the state.

Cannon and Brown discussed the need for more manufacturing and healthcare workers in the state.

“Our opportunities around manufacturing are amazing,” said Brown. “With federal resources coming in, this is a time we cannot afford to waste. “

Cannon called for continued investment in the ‘Future Ready Oregon’ program that Brown announced in 2018 to close the skills gap between what students learned in post-secondary education and what was needed in the market. work. This included investments in vocational technical education, helping mid-career construction workers start their own businesses, and providing grants to start new businesses.

Cannon also presented his commission’s plan, finalized in August, to modernize college curricula, skills training programs and apprenticeships to meet Oregon’s workforce needs. The goals are to make post-high school education more relevant to existing and future jobs and to make education and training more accessible to low-income Oregon residents and those returning to school while working at full-time.

Cannon and Brown said there is a need for government-supported services for Oregon residents who pursue post-secondary options such as affordable housing, health care and child care. They said it would increase the number of people from historically under-represented groups enrolling in colleges, universities and certification programs and help close the income gaps exacerbated by the pandemic.

Brown said it would be part of the $ 200 million package put together by her Racial Justice Council that she will submit to the Oregon Legislature in February for approval.

“I think it’s absolutely imperative that we keep racial justice at the forefront of our recovery efforts,” said Brown, “and this particularly relates to workforce training.”

Cannon said the Higher Education Coordinating Commission calls on state leaders to ensure that “post-secondary learners can afford to meet their basic needs. For too long, policymakers have thought of the affordability of post-secondary education primarily as a matter of tuition fees.

He said the commission “is hearing more and more students struggling with food insecurity and housing and the high price of textbooks. We must meet these basic needs.

Cannon said the state has historically underfunded post-secondary education and skills training programs for the past 20 years, providing less than a third of the student financial aid provided in Washington state.

Cannon said the commission plans to work with Brown on a legislative package that would provide more apprenticeships, community college career programs, and expand the ability of students to earn community college course credits for their prior learning and education. their life skills.

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