Labor Day is our annual recognition of the contributions that workers make to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. Montana’s labor force demonstrates those qualities year after year. Fostering a talented, plentiful workforce boosts all facets of our state economy, and the Montana Chamber of Commerce recognizes this fact by elevating the issue in its ten-year strategic plan, Envision 2026.

Montanans have a lot to celebrate as we approach Labor Day, including rising wages and one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation. In addition, federal tax reform has helped many folks keep a little more of their hard-earned dollars in their pocket.

One way to achieve a primary goal of Envision 2026 — that of boosting per capita income — is workforce training. Many companies are adopting innovative strategies to reduce the learning curve of new employees, with many of them beginning that process during student recruitment. However, Montana is still seeing patterns of out migration in the new generation of workers and has not yet streamlined collaboration between educators and the business community.

A focus on career readiness can boost Montana’s qualified workforce.

ACT® Inc., the organization behind the standardized test, is working with states and counties to create “Work Ready Communities”. This grassroots, data-driven strategy links workforce development to education, aligns economic development needs locally and regionally, and matches individuals to jobs based on skill levels. The Montana Chamber is working with ACT to identify prospect communities in our state.

Implementing creative workforce development strategies is a must in Montana. The Montana Chamber is actively involved in the implementation of apprenticeship, certificate, and dual enrollment programs. However, the numbers tell us that our work is far from finished.

In the ACT’s 2017 State of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) report, about one-third of Montana ACT-tested high school graduates met the ACT readiness benchmarks in math and science. Additionally, just 23 percent of Montana students demonstrated an interest in STEM and only 9 percent plan to pursue a STEM major or career. We need to better promote career opportunities in Montana for our students, which in turn can fuel their desire to pursue them and meet the readiness benchmarks.

The Montana Chamber is developing legislative solutions to improve Montana’s talent pipeline. While our state budget remains tight, the Montana legislature continues to diligently consider the benefits of appropriating more funds to career and technical education across the state. On the federal level, more work can be done to find a long-term solution for temporary worker visas as tourism demand in Montana outpaces our capacity to accommodate it. The Montana Chamber successfully lobbied Congress to reauthorize the Perkins Act, which commits $1.2 billion to career preparation programs nation wide.

The people of Montana are always working to improve themselves, their communities, and the welfare of the state overall. We are never satisfied with “OK”, and that’s one of our greatest strengths.

This Labor Day, think about how you can channel that strength into action when it comes to Montana’s workforce. Do you have a student who is looking for career guidance? Are you contacting your legislators?

Thank you and we hope you enjoy/enjoyed your Labor Day weekend. Be safe!

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