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Education and workforce readiness in Idaho: Idaho LAUNCH takes center stage

by Chloe Baul

October 27, 2023

As the state faces challenges from the gaps between graduating students and those entering the job market, one program could help fill the employee demand in different industries.

Idaho has taken a step toward improving education and workforce readiness with the introduction of the Idaho LAUNCH program. The grant initiative is designed to align students with the state’s workforce demands by providing financial support for education and training programs.

According to the Lumina Foundation, in 2021, the state saw 51% of its young adults completing some form of postsecondary education, indicating progress from 2019, although still below the national average of 56%.

Wendi Secrist, executive director of the Idaho Workforce Development Council, operating under the Executive Office of the Governor, underscores a pressing challenge for Idaho: aligning the workforce with the demands of a burgeoning business sector.

“There are certain populations that are perhaps more challenged in connecting to the workforce than others,” she said. “When we look at the labor force, we have huge challenges in Idaho because of the growth of our businesses, which is what drives our economy.”

This situation places increased pressure on employers to recruit individuals with the necessary skills, emphasizing the importance of aligning the workforce with the specific needs of businesses.

Key statistics, provided by the Idaho Department of Labor, indicate a 3.1% unemployment rate in Idaho with two job openings available for every unemployed Idahoan. However, the aftermath of the pandemic has left around 26,000 people disconnected from the workforce.

“That’s 26,000 people who haven’t reconnected into the workforce, which would obviously make a huge difference in the challenges that employers are facing to hire the people that they need to grow their businesses.”

According to Secrist, Idaho has approximately 20,000 to 22,000 graduating high school seniors every year. Last year, around 38% of them went on to post secondary education. 

“With LAUNCH, we’ve got to think about what’s happening to the other 58% — that’s more than half,” she added. “What are we doing to support them?”

The initiative reflects a broader nationwide shift, added Secrist, acknowledging that many students are looking for more cost-effective, flexible, and direct pathways to successful careers. Programs like Idaho LAUNCH aim to provide accessible pathways to various forms of postsecondary education and workforce readiness to address these disparities.

The program caters to recent high school graduates who may not opt for traditional four-year or two-year colleges, opening doors for graduates to access licenses, certifications, and other career-focused education that connects them with the job market. 

Alex LeBeau, president of Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, sees Idaho LAUNCH as a generational transformation with a significant impact on education and the workforce in the state. He said he anticipates significant demand for the program, with the potential for up to 10,000 sign ups.

“We think Idaho LAUNCH is generationally transformative,” he said. “This is one of the single largest investments in Idaho to remove the barriers for going on to school after you graduate high school.”

LeBeau highlighted the program’s capacity to address the workforce needs of high-demand industries.

“If you have an open position that’s an in-demand job and if there are certain skill sets that are required to do those, those are in-demand skills,” he added. “Finding people that match those skills to be in those in-demand jobs — that’s an extremely high priority for a multitude of our different industries, whether that’s food manufacturing, to health care.”

LeBeau underscored the program’s transformative potential, which could uplift Idaho’s economy and its educational landscape for years to come.

“We are extremely proud of the governor and the legislature for supporting this and moving forward with this program,” LeBeau said. “We look forward to working with them in the 2024 session on the issue, possibly to expand it and continue to give Idahoans the opportunities they deserve.”

Applications for Idaho LAUNCH are currently open, with a priority deadline of Nov. 30 and closing on April 15, 2024. Submitting applications early is advised.

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