As a former school board member and former CTE teacher, I’ve always worked to get more students through the K-12 education pipeline and didn’t think much about the 25-30% who leak out of the pipe. I didn’t know about the huge pool of underemployed and unemployed in Oregon.

Not too many years ago, one of our county workforce experts sat me in front of her blackboard and explained the workforce system and how it serves the large number of dropouts as well as those who require retraining later in their careers. And she emphasized the challenges her local employers, such as Miles Fiberglass & Composites or Benchmade Knives, faced when searching for talent to maintain operations or grow their businesses.

I also toured businesses to hear first-hand that we need to do more than train dropouts. Like a lot of other Oregon companies, LAM Industries in Sherwood needs hundreds of more technicians and engineers to grow their business and meet demands for products.

I continued to learn when in June of 2016, I went with a small group to the Reach Higher Convening in Colorado Springs. We learned more about Colorado’s efforts in bringing together leaders in business and education to explore work-based learning opportunities with an emphasis on expanding business/education partnerships.

I ended up attending the Western Pathways conference in 2017. I learned a lot about what other states were doing to prepare more young adults for career success, to increase student engagement and achievement, and to address the skills gaps faced by businesses. We were able to collaborate during the daily sessions to get to know each other and work on specific goals for our state as well as metrics and outcomes.

This bill recognized the extremely siloed nature of Oregon’s workforce system that was creating barriers, duplicates and inefficiencies.

HB 3437 sets the table so that everyone can work together. The Workforce Talent Development Board can develop a better workforce system and a K-20 education system that betters aligns with the needs of industry. When we do this work, Oregon’s economy and education systems will thrive; there will be a place where students of all ages can find their pathway to a brighter future, and Oregon’s economy can thrive as well!