River Thoughts

Paulie Brading

We threw the anchor out of our drift boat on a spectacularly beautiful sunny Labor Day in front of the recently reopened Rogue River Lodge just above Shady Cove on Highway 62 on the way from Medford to Crater Lake. The drift was planned with the casual high end eatery in mind. My husband explained the Lodge has employed over 30 people who'd been unemployed. The employees come from all over Jackson and Josephine county. The new Lodge owners greeted us, the food was better than we'd hoped for, the service was excellent and the view of the Rogue River was hypnotic.

Soon our lunch discussion turned to the White Paper both of us had read this morning published by the Oregon Workforce Partnership. The report is available at http://oregonwfpartnership.org/ OWP is a non-partisan, private/public, statewide association. Their mission is to build a more highly skilled workforce to support and expand the state's economy. We learned there are more high-skill workers in Oregon than there are jobs, less middle-skill workers where jobs are going unfilled and about the same level of low-skill workers and jobs.

The White Paper reported that 360,000 assessments of adults seeking jobs show that 45% of those assessed have a basic skills gap in math and 34% have a skills gap in reading. The report explained that those people with gaps in basic skills will only qualify for about one-third of the jobs in Oregon's economy. Now is the time to pause and think about the dwindling resources for K-12 education. Oregon currently has the second shortest school year in the country.

The Oregon Business Plan has already pointed out that the state is spending more of its limited resources on human services and prisons and less on education and skill development. In other words Oregon is investing in its problems not Oregon's future. Right now Oregon does not produce enough middle skill workers to fill approximately 49% of jobs that require more than high-school but less than a four year degree according to the White Paper. To make matters worse, Oregon community college budgets were decreased by 9% in 2010.

Examples of middle-skill jobs of high demand listed in the report are civil engineering technicians, licensed pracitical/vocational nurses, air traffic controllers, auto mechanics, police and sheriff patrol officers, and truck drivers for heavy transportation.

One of the startling statements in the report mentioned employment opportunties for younger workers creates a permanent "lost generation" of workers. We probably all know those workers will never catch up in wages or in career advancement. Oregon youth are facing a 30% unemployment rate.

My husband never fails to tell me our schools and community colleges need to skill up workers. He likes to throw a jab now and then at his wife who sits on a school board.

Business as usual just isn't going to cut it. Oregon's per capita personal income has slid to 90% of the U.S. average in the last 10 years states the report. In plain English, people aren't making the money they used to and the resources for state services are in a free fall.

Republican Chris Dudley, candidate for governor of Oregon is focused on giving college scholarships to the top 5% in our high school students instead of supporting the 65% of the students in community colleges acquiring worker training for middle-skill jobs. His proposal championed by the Big "O" columnist Steve Duin over the weekend reflects Lake Oswego think. A college education is a great goal but it doesn't neccessarily put bread on the table, especially here in Oregon where high skill workers out number the high skill jobs available.

We trudged back down to the drift boat still talking about Oregon's next moves in workforce development and education. Suddenly the third Blue Heron of the day flew over our heads. He was, of course, looking for fish and I thought about all the Oregonians looking for jobs. My husband rowed. I sat in silence thinking we had better elect the man who really understands all of Oregon, not just Lake Oswego.

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    Oh, on the scholarships... that's not for now, that's for when we can afford it, according to Dudley. Tax breaks for the wealthy and the corporate. That comes first.

    When we get rid of Bush's "No Child Left Behind" teachers can start focusing on teaching instead of tests.

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