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Skills gap N.Y. looks at solutions

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A recent USA Today article reported on the shortage of construction workers needed to meet the rising demand as the housing market rebounds. The lack of workers is surprising in an industry that lost more than 2 million jobs since January 2007 and has a jobless rate of about 11 percent. But it is not alone. Manufacturers and businesses across the country are having difficulty finding experienced or skilled workers to fill vacancies with expectations that the problem will worsen in the next few years.

Many factors account for the shortages. Jobless workers have sought alternative employment during the economic downturn. Aging baby boomers and long-term unemployed are choosing to retire.

However, employers say, there is a shortage of trained workers prepared to take their place in industries and factories demanding greater skills in a high-tech society. New York state, though, is taking some initiatives to address the problem and prepare high school graduates to meet the demand, particularly in emerging industries.

The state Education Department is expected to vote next year on creating two alternative high school diplomas. One would focus on science, technology, engineering and math, known as STEM; the other on career and technology education.

“The Regents understand that one size does not fit all students,” Dennis Tompkins, department spokesman told the Associated Press. “Too many of our students are forced in a single graduation pathway. Their skills and potential are stifled and they end up unprepared for success in adult life.”

Business leaders and state education officials will gather today in Albany to discuss ways of bridging the gap between demand and supply of skilled employees. They will be looking at current collaborative efforts between businesses and high schools and colleges as well innovative programs offered through high school Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

Education Commissioner John King said the partnerships are “not only a way to tackle our state’s economic development challenges but also to tackle our achievement gap and some of the challenges we see in student performance.”

The need is there. The state Labor Department predicts a 135 percent increase in STEM-related computer and electronic product manufacturing jobs in the Albany area from 2008 to 2018, an increase of 1,800 jobs where workers can earn a median salary of almost $77,000. Educational changes and innovations are needed now to prepare New York high school graduates to compete for those jobs.

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