The new head of Idaho's Labor Department says the state needs to shift its focus to better paying jobs that will help grow the state's economy.
Ken Edmunds is now in his second month as the head of Idaho’s Labor Department. The Twin Falls businessman replaced longtime labor director Roger Madsen in late November.
Much of Idaho's recent job creation has resulted in relatively low paying, service sector jobs. Edmunds says with Idaho's unemployment rate now around 6 percent, the state should set its sights higher.
Among Edmunds’ responsibilities include making sure Idaho is producing workers whose talents match the needs of employers.
But that won’t happen quickly, he says. Edmunds thinks Idaho’s education system is struggling to produce adequately-prepared workers, and overhauling the system will take years.
“Idaho is not unique,” he says. “It’s a trend everywhere. We have a problem of matching up employer needs with our education system. But we have to find some way to align our workforce training with what employers want. And sometimes the education system doesn’t get it.”
Asked for an example, Edmunds says companies need workers with backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). But he says Idaho’s young people don’t seem interested.
Edmunds served previously on Idaho’s State Board of Education. He was a member of the state education task force that made recommendations on how Idaho could improve its education system. Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter has proposed funding some of those recommendations as soon as this summer. Otter wants to grow the education budget by 2.9 percent in Fiscal Year 2015.
Edmunds calls the governor’s education proposal “cautious and conservative."
“It’s never enough,” he says. “And yet we have to balance that with a lot of people who think that we spend too much already on government programs.”
Edmunds thinks more and more Idaho lawmakers are willing to invest in education. He adds that he wouldn’t be surprised if lawmakers fund education at a higher level than what Otter has proposed.
“A lot of the comments I’m already seeing come out of the Legislature indicate that culturally, it’s changing,” he says. “And [lawmakers] are recognizing the need for greater education funding. The cultural mindset is changing.”
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