The Legislature’s Economic Outlook & Revenue Assessment Committee heard a rather startling statistic this afternoon from state Department of Labor Director Ken Edmunds: Idaho is losing half of its college graduates within four years of their graduation. “We’re only retaining 50 percent of our college graduates after four years – that’s a problem,” Edmunds told the lawmakers.
When Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, asked Edmunds, “What’s the solution?” he said all he could offer is his opinion. “We’ve been avoiding this issue for a long time, because our employers don’t like to hear it,” Edmunds said. We don’t pay well.”
He said, “That’s a tough challenge. There’s no government solution to that – it’s a market condition.” In the coming years, Edmunds said, he expects Idaho wages to rise, due to that same market condition. “Our employers are going to be forced to pay more,” he said.
When Hill asked why employers aren’t willing to pay more now – since they’d have to pay more in other states – Edmunds said, “We haven’t really trained our people for the jobs we need, that’s what it boils down to. … We aren’t matching up our training at our universities and our professional-technical education programs, particularly professional-technical areas, to what our employers need. … If we don’t make some changes there, it could become a crisis.”
His comments came at the end of his presentation to the joint panel on Idaho’s employment outlook, which he said overall is good. “We’re very bullish concerning 2017,” Edmunds said. In November, Idaho’s unemployment rate was the 11th lowest in the nation, and the department expects that to continue through 2016, with unemployment in Idaho remaining around 4 percent. The national unemployment rate for 2016 is expected to be between 4.8 percent and 5.2 percent.
Edmunds’ presentation is one of an array that lawmakers on the revenue panel are hearing today and tomorrow. You can see the full agenda, information packet and submitted presentations online here, and listen live here.