For decision-makers in Idaho, matching the needs of businesses–particularly high-tech ones–with the state’s educational output has taken on increasing importance. The Idaho State Board of Education and State Division of Professional-Technical Education (IPTE) have put an emphasis on statewide strategic planning, and in February the two organizations brought in EMSI to complete a comparative analysis of education and labor data for the state.
According to Dick Ledington, Director of Research for IPTE, “In this era of limited resources, trying to align education programs with labor needs is an important consideration. Colleges and universities have other criteria to consider, as well, when planning new programs. However, it is important that workforce needs be considered.”
Idaho has four public universities and four public two-year schools. Traditionally, Ledington said, each institution has been autonomous for the most part, with guidance from the State Board of Education on regional and statewide missions. Current economic realities at the college level are resulting in program consolidations and in some cases closure. The challenge for the State Board and IPTE as they move forward is to identify, on a statewide basis, the criteria that will be considered in streamlining the educational system while maintaining quality programs.
That’s where EMSI’s report has been helpful. It provided current data and analysis on the estimated supply of graduates with the demand for workers in key fields, helping the State Board and IPTE get a sense of the workforce demand as it relates to educational completers in Idaho.
“At least for professional-technical programs, I see this as a first step of moving forward strategically,” Ledington said. “This report will help to begin the conversation about what occupational areas we are over- or under-producing graduates or possibly missing altogether.”
EMSI’s report was mentioned in a recent article in the Idaho Statesman–the main newspaper for Boise and the burgeoning Treasure Valley. The story pointed out the state’s need to recruit or train more highly skilled workers to help high-tech industries compete.
A February report commissioned by the State Board of Education shows a significant gap between the business reality and Idaho’s education system.
In 2009, the computer programming field generated an estimated 395 job openings in Idaho, yet the state produced only 24 graduates in that field. The information technology field had an estimated 929 openings with only 162 graduates.
Boise State, College of Western Idaho and other Idaho higher education institutions have been ramping up their computer sciences programming to try to close this gap.