Mark Mattke: Now is the time to invest in Washington’s economic recovery with local workforce solutions

By Mark Mattke

After spending time in a Moroccan refugee camp and taking steps towards a brighter future, Niklett “Nikki” Tadila and her daughter arrived in Spokane in 2017. Without the traditional education, essential job skills and cultural awareness of her new environment, Tadila realized that there were many things that needed to be adjusted if she was to support her family. These are some of the same challenges that many members of our community are working hard to overcome.

Fortunately, Tadila received free employment and education development assistance from career coaches at the Next Generation Zone, our region’s only one-stop employment and education center for young adults in 16 to 24 years old. Within months, she secured an entry-level position in health care and continues to work on her high school equivalency diploma. Along the way, she quickly adapted to our community and discovered the differences between the culture she was raised in and the one where she hopes to grow her career.

The help Tadila has received was made possible through investments in the local labor system – your taxes at work enabling a network of community organizations and nonprofits to serve first line of economic recovery.

This statewide collaboration of local Workforce Development Councils, which has existed in one form or another for more than 80 years, serves nearly 78,000 Washingtonians each year and helps nearly 15 000 companies to fill vacancies.

Currently, tens of thousands of people are still on the margins of the labor market for a variety of reasons – lack of affordable childcare, fear of being exposed to COVID-19 for themselves or their family, and many need help to participate in the local and regional workforce. These people – including diverse races and ethnicities, immigrants and refugees, and rural residents – are in real danger of becoming trapped in a series of interconnected obstacles, without additional support.

At the same time, businesses are struggling to fill nearly 200,000 job vacancies across the state, including thousands in critical sectors like health care, education, manufacturing and hospitality services. This is hampering our state’s economic recovery and hampering the ability of businesses of all sizes to fully recover and grow.

As lawmakers in Olympia debate critical measures for Washington’s economic recovery, now is the time to invest in local workforce solutions. We recommend a $50 million state workforce innovation fund to allow local solutions to have flexible funding. We recommend that legislators take advantage of the infrastructure that already exists – established funding, network of providers, community partners, WorkSource Centers and industry relations – and build on this to produce better outcomes for workers and businesses, and to maximize scale and impact.

There has been no investment in designated workforce through the federal CARES Act or the US bailout. Existing federal funds are inflexible, insufficient, and ill-equipped to meet “just-in-time” demands caused by our new pandemic economy, which would leave 90% of people in need behind.

Our state cannot afford to leave people like Tadila behind. By investing in these local solutions, lawmakers can put a down payment on a fair economic recovery for better, stronger communities.

Mark Mattke is the CEO of the Spokane Workforce Council. The council advises and funds the workforce system in Spokane, which consists of two career centers and 20 affiliated locations in Spokane County.

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