Retraining: Whose job is it?

With the forecasted 2010 skilled-worker drought looming over the horizon, retraining the workforce is on the minds of many.

Workforce demographics are changing, said Lisa Edwards, executive dean of workforce education at Clark College. And with the graying workforce headed for retirement and fewer trained people entering the workforce, that skills gap is going to grow.

The need to re-skill the workforce has been established, but whose responsibility is it to get the job done?

"Is it the education system’s? Is it the business sector’s? Is it the public’s? The answer is yes, it’s everybody’s responsibility," said Lisa Nisenfeld, executive director of the Southwest Washington Workforce Development Council.

Higher education must become more affordable, workers should be learning marketable skills on the job and the public may have to help pay for it. There has been a long-standing social contract in which the public sector agreed to train people in literacy and numeracy and they would be ready for work, Nisenfeld said.

"What we need is a revised social contract," she said. "An understanding of what the public and private is going to pay for the skills our workers need."

The development council plans to hold focus groups with industry sectors to identify their needs and future demands.

The healthcare industry is an interesting one to watch, and one where business is taking the lead.

Nurses are retiring at a rate that’s the same or greater than the rest of the community and their demand is only growing.

"We’re headed for life’s really big train wreck for nursing," Nisenfeld said. "The number of people heading for nursing needs to grow considerably."

To meet the demands of technologist shortages and provide community outreach and training in the late 1980s, Kaiser Permanente began a fully accredited, hospital-based school of radiology. Then in response to Kaiser’s shortage of skilled personnel, advanced certificate programs in mammography, fluoroscopy and venipuncture followed in 1995. After 2000, diagnostic medical sonography and nuclear medicine technology certificate programs were added, and the school got a name: the Kaiser Permanente School of Allied Health Sciences, and now includes radiation therapy and phlebotomy programs.

Based in Richmond, Calif., it was approved to operate as a vocational school in 2003.

"It’s a solution many companies are going to have to deal with," Nisenfeld said. "To make the shift that we’re in the training business now." That kind of thinking ahead is not typical of small businesses, she added.

"I’m not sure it’s registered with the business community as to what this means," Edwards said. "They’re not thinking, ‘What if I don’t have a workforce to tap into to do business?’"

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