Armed with a $250,000 planning grant, Vicki Isakson, project manager of Workforce Innovation Now, has spent the last six months compiling information on ways to attract regional job opportunities, and to align both education and the work force to accommodate those jobs.
The Idaho Department of Commerce project is charged with developing a 20-year strategic plan on how to transform our region (defined as the five northern counties of Idaho) from being a timber-dependent economy to an economy that is diversified and focused on emerging industries that provide high growth and high wage jobs.
The plan will also identify how to assist unemployed individuals back into the work force as quickly as possible; and how to sustain regional employment through aligning education, work force development, and economic development, according to WIN objectives.
So far, Isakson has discovered “great interest and support” for the development of a regional plan from industry representatives, government leaders, economic development organizations and the public through a series of summit meetings she has organized.
The focus of the collaborative meetings has been to encourage discussion concerning issues that impact the regional work force, and to take a look at the future with an eye toward a combination of early outreach and ongoing training and development that will enable us to maintain and grow a healthy regional work force.
Developing a regional strategic plan is important, according to Isakson, because area-wide plans combine resources of smaller communities and garner more attention when it comes to funding.
According to Laury Forrest of Kelly Services, the next generation of workers can expect to change jobs and even careers many times throughout their lifetime, making work force education and training vital to a community that wishes to attract and retain new jobs.
Isakson addressed those issues during a recent summit meeting held in Sandpoint.
“We focused on what are we teaching youth these days?” said Isakson. “What kind of programs are the universities and community colleges offering and what do we need in the future?”
Upcoming WIN meetings will focus on affordable housing, social services, small business services, construction and manufacturing jobs, and aerospace expansion.
During a day-long Tourism Summit held recently at Silverwood, nearly 50 businessmen and women including owners of local businesses, representatives from local chambers of commerce and a few nonprofits; met to share information, exchange ideas on how to attract more tourists, and form a tourism network.
“We have also talked about infrastructure,” said Isakson. “How can we get infrastructure like roads, bridges, and transportation in place so we can attract jobs, bring in new companies, and grow the existing work force.”
Although the current economic picture foremost on everyone’s mind, Isakson said these meetings are not geared toward addressing current work force problems. “Everyone is kind of reacting to what is happening in the work force today, but we are focused on the future,” she said.
“We are figuring out what we want the region to look like in 5-10-20 years from now. It’s what our kids are going to be trained on, and what their kids are going to be trained to do.”
Although Isakson has another 12 months before the plan is due, she says some networking has already begun between those brought together through WIN meetings. “There is great energy and we’ve had tremendous participation,” she said.
Those attending the Tourism Summit were no exception. “These people want to continue to stay in contact with each other. We’ve received suggestions for quarterly meetings, additional website and networking opportunities, and ideas for generating new events during the off season,” she said.
Isakson urges anyone interested to participate in the planning process. Although no funding resource is attached to the project, those involved in work force development believe that having a regional plan in place will be beneficial when funding does become available – placing our region one step ahead.