Amid difficulty, Missouri finds opportunity

Our state will do everything in its power to help displaced Missourians return to work and equip them for the accelerating pace of change ahead.

by Governor Mike Parson

Despite unprecedented challenges, Missouri workers and employers alike can celebrate many successes over the past year. With more than 70 percent of jobs recovered, Missouri is in the top tier for total economic recovery from COVID-19, and our unemployment rate is well below the national average as Missourians receive training through partnerships with hundreds of companies, which have invested more than $2.5 billion in our state.

However, as we acknowledge our progress, we must continue working toward an inclusive economic recovery. One of my most important priorities as governor is to connect job seekers with opportunities throughout our state while working to prepare the workforce of tomorrow. As the shape of our post-pandemic economy comes into view, we are redoubling our commitment to assisting job seekers with education, workforce, and training programs with the ultimate goal of family-sustaining jobs for every Missourian.

This is why Missouri joined a diverse cohort of 10 states as part of the Workforce Innovation Network — a nonpartisan learning and action collaborative led by the bipartisan National Governors Association (NGA) and supported by the Cognizant U.S. Foundation. Our state — along with Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Hawai‘i, Illinois, Maine, New Mexico, Nevada and Washington — joined this network to incubate ideas, share knowledge, and scale innovations to better connect job seekers to work, education, training, and the essential supports many will need to succeed.

Through the network, we have access to new resources and tools to study, refine, and improve state and local delivery of training and employment services. We are committed to working with employers to fill critical talent pipelines and with job seekers to help every family find good-paying jobs. Together, we aim to increase job seeker engagement in our workforce development programs by 60 percent by 2025.

These goals align with the mission of Missouri’s Office of Workforce Development, which launched Job Centers of the Future last summer to transform our public workforce system and better engage with job seekers and employers. More than 90,000 Missourians used our Job Centers last year for job search assistance, employment training, resume assistance, and other services.

This work will make a difference in the lives of Missouri workers who have been caught in the economic dislocations of the past, and we expect continued strong growth in health care and technology jobs, including many that pay well above state and national average incomes. That is why we partnered with organizations like the Missouri Hospital Association to launch virtual job fairs and connect people to good jobs while ensuring that our health care system meets current and future needs. We are also conscious that the outlook for service-providing industries, particularly those in leisure and hospitality, continues to hinge on our emergence from the pandemic.

Our commitment to helping Missourians navigate economic changes goes back many years. Through Missouri One Start, for example, nearly 100,000 Missourians have received training through partnerships with more than 400 companies. In November 2019, I signed an executive order establishing the Office of Apprenticeship and Work-Based Learning to align the efforts of five state agencies on policy, branding, and recruitment with the ultimate goal of achieving 20,000 active apprentices by 2025. Missouri is now ranked second in the United States for apprenticeships.

We are working tirelessly to help Missourians obtain new skills, get back to work, and reopen the state’s public workforce system safely and responsibly, and we take pride in innovating and building on our successes to meet the evolving needs of Missourians. We are committed to boosting funds for our programs that encourage adults to pursue a certificate, degree, or industry-recognized credential in high-need areas, as well as developing and expanding employer-driven education and training initiatives.

Over the past year, I’ve been impressed by the resilience and can-do spirit of my fellow Missourians during a time of unprecedented challenges. Our state will do everything in its power to help displaced Missourians return to work and equip them for the accelerating pace of change ahead. As governor, I’m dedicated to helping Missouri workers write their own success stories.

This piece originally appeared in The Hill.