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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Mark Mattke: Job seekers, employers will benefit from long-term investments in workforce development

Mark Mattke

By Mark Mattke

As our economy continues to recover, we still face a number of headwinds that are slowing the pace of growth. Inflation and rising costs of living are straining household budgets at the same time employers are struggling to find candidates for good-paying, quality jobs that would help lift people into the middle class.

We need to connect more people to the skills and credentials needed to fuel our vital industries, including health care, manufacturing, transportation, construction and finance. Our partners in the community college system, apprenticeship programs and other institutions of higher education offer instructional programs aligned with business needs, but many workers struggle to access training to advance into new careers while balancing their basic needs and the needs of their families.

This challenging environment requires new approaches that will promote regional economic and workforce development and support people joining the labor force and fill the gaps in our labor market. Investments are essential to assist people exiting poverty and to prevent those who are struggling from falling deeper into financial hardship. Businesses also require assistance to better articulate their changing skill needs and understand the new demographic landscape to attract, retain and develop employees.

Washington’s 12 Local Workforce Development Boards operate the workforce system in every region of the state, serving almost 80,000 job seekers annually and helping nearly 20,000 businesses fill vacant positions.

The Spokane Workforce Council and our counterparts provide proven and scalable solutions to the current workforce challenges we each face. We have the time-tested infrastructure to meet both old and new demands for job seekers and employers in this dynamic, post-pandemic landscape. But additional, adaptable investments are needed to build capacity and maintain the momentum of our economic recovery.

This year, working with our partners in the governor’s office, the state Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board and the state Employment Security Department, our coalition is championing a strategic and flexible state investment that allows local boards to meet our diverse populations of job seekers where they are and engage with a broader array of employers to help them meet their workforce needs and retain or upskill their current employees.

The model for this investment is the successful Economic Security for All program, which the Spokane Workforce Council launched in 2019. The program brings together partners in each local workforce system to leverage all available resources and deliver effective career services that support our regional talent development goals. Since July of last year, this program has served more than 2,000 individuals statewide, helping them access training and household stabilization resources on their way to good jobs and long-term careers.

Expanding this investment will bring local solutions directly to job seekers and businesses, providing funding to aid in poverty prevention, increase investment in skills-based training, intensify the focus on and outreach to at-risk and underserved populations, support earn-and-learn opportunities and enhance employer engagement to help them grow their workforce.

Funding this request at the $13.8 million now before the Legislature will provide the necessary boost to crucial services that help businesses connect with skilled workers and move Washingtonians into good jobs with family-sustaining wages and support them as they move to full financial independence.

By investing in this proven local workforce solution, our state will continue to improve access to economic opportunity for all. We hope you’ll join us in this landmark effort by Local Boards to strengthen our workforce system and serve even more residents and businesses that are the cornerstones of a resilient economy and vibrant communities.

Mark Mattke is chief executive officer of the Spokane Workforce Council, which is responsible for the design and performance of the regional talent development system, working with a broad community partnership to ensure that the dynamic workforce needs of business are met. He is also a participating official on the state Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board.

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