Gov. Locke stresses importance of workforce training

Gov. Gary Locke Tuesday emphasized the importance of the state’s workforce training and retraining efforts, citing results of the latest survey of Washington employers conducted by the Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board (Workforce Board).

The survey found that, even in the midst of a recession, among Washington state employers attempting to hire, 45 percent had difficulty finding qualified job applicants in 2003. Extrapolated from the survey results, the shortage affected some 56,000 employers in the state, negatively impacting their productivity, sales, quality and service.

“These insights into what our employers need most are invaluable,” Locke said. “They allow us to fine tune our workforce training efforts to get Washington workers the skills they need. I commend the Workforce Board’s continued commitment to addressing the changing workforce needs of our employers.”

“The results of the survey emphatically underscore the critical link between economic development and education,” Locke said. “We must ensure that our higher education and vocational programs are directed toward critical skill needs.”

Workforce Board Director Ellen O’Brien Saunders said, “In our survey, the shortage was greatest for jobs requiring postsecondary education – especially for vocationally trained workers, such as those in our community and technical colleges, in apprenticeship programs, and private career schools and colleges.”

The Workforce Board employer survey is conducted bi-annually. Nearly 3,000 employers responded to this year’s survey, which is used to identify employers’ workforce needs and practices, and gauge their satisfaction with workforce programs. The information is shared with policymakers in order to focus the workforce development system’s responsiveness to employer needs.

In addition to occupation-specific skills, employers reported difficulty in finding staff with good work habits, an adaptability to change, and the ability to accept supervision and to work in teams. “We must ensure we’re including general workplace skills even in the K-12 curriculum,” O’Brien Saunders said.

Other survey findings
Difficulty finding qualified workers by location – Employers in all parts of Washington reported difficulty finding qualified applicants with the highest incidences reported in the workforce development areas of Olympia (Clallam, Jefferson and Kitsap counties), King County and Eastern Washington (Ferry, Stevens, Pend Oreille, Lincoln, Whitman, Walla Walla, Columbia, Garfield and Asotin counties).

Difficulty finding qualified workers by industry – This was most severe in the construction industry, where 65 percent of those hiring reported difficulty in finding skilled workers. The high-tech sector also had trouble, with 54 percent of employers reporting a scarcity of workers with specific high-tech skills.

Difficulty finding qualified workers by skill – Among those employers reporting difficulty, 91 percent had a hard time finding workers with occupation-specific skills. Eighty-seven percent had difficulty finding workers with problem-solving or critical thinking skills, and 83 percent had a hard time finding workers with communication skills and positive work habits and attitudes.

Training increased – Faced with a shortage of skilled workers, employers increased their own training. A majority of firms surveyed (59 percent) said they had provided or paid for some classroom training – up almost 10 percent from the 2001 survey – due to changes in technology, the need to improve worker productivity and an effort to develop a more flexible workforce. Forty-nine percent of employers also provided at least four hours of on-the-job training, which is up considerably from 2001 when only 35 percent of employers said they provided the training.

The Workforce Board works with business, labor, education and government to ensure that Washington has a highly skilled workforce. Emphasis is placed on education and training – at whatever the person’s stage of life – for occupations that do not require a four-year degree.

The complete survey can be found at