CLAY COUNTY — During a meeting of the Northland Education and Business Alliance Tuesday, March 2, Gov. Mike Parson praised efforts from local school districts, colleges, their innovative business partnerships and cooperation through alliances like NEBA that helped Missouri become second in the nation in apprenticeship programs for the second year in a row.
“Education is the key to healthy workforce development,” he said to a crowd of educators and business partners Tuesday at the KC Tech Academy.
Parson said the future workforce is learning innovative skills needed for tomorrow through programs like the KC Tech Academy, Northland CAPS and others across the state. In addition, he said, Missouri added more than 10,000 new jobs and $1 billion in investment in the last year.
“I know one thing about the Northland, … the people who are here are extremely serious about the workforce of tomorrow and getting folks to join forces and pull together to get this accomplished,” the governor said.
Parson said the goal is to have 12,000 Missouri students graduate high school this year with a certificate or real-world skills like some in the Northland are receiving from programs in districts like Kearney and Liberty. Parson said he wants high school grads able to walk into interviews with large companies with skills that will allow them to say “I am qualified to work at your company.”
“If you really want your kids and your grandkids to stay here like I do, you’ve got to give them the opportunity to stay. The only way to do that is through education, is through workforce development,” he said.
A key to building the desired workforce of tomorrow includes access to broadband internet.
“We’ve got to do much better,” he said, adding there are nearly nine school districts in the state without access to broadband internet. The current pandemic, the governor said, has proven more investment in internet access is needed for students and businesses to compete and thrive on a broader scale.
“We’ve put a lot of emphasis in broadband across the state. We put another $5 million in this year, we have a lot of federal money coming in, … but I think the biggest issue is we just have got to get it done. I’m not sure money is always the problem, it’s just physically getting it to the area,” he said. “We’ve got to do a better job in rural Missouri.”
When asked to elaborate on his vision for workforce development and the Northland in particular by Beth Freeman of Kearney School District, Parson said his administration looks to recruit businesses looking to locate or relocate. Those businesses, he said, look at the surrounding communities, related infrastructure and if the area provides a skilled job candidate pool. The Northland and Kansas City, he said, check a lot of boxes because they are “aggressive communities.”
“And that’s what you want to be,” he said. “… Keep working and doing exactly what we’re doing. If you keep getting business to expand and grow, it’s opportunity all the way around.”
Early childhood development
When asked by Smithville Assistant Superintendent Michelle Kratofil how K-12 schools fit into Parson’s vision for workforce development and for him to expand on where early childhood development fits in, he said all education and community change starts with early childhood development. The governor said processes and programs may need to be streamlined, making sure services get to children who need them sooner.
“It’s about making sure the services get to the kid on the street that we need to help to build the future. If you can’t get kids in school and you can’t give them an education and give them job training, you are going to be fighting the same battles from here on out,” he said. “We’ve got to do that. We’ve got to finance it and make sure people understand how important it is.”
Parson said federal funds are expected to come to the state for workforce development, education and related infrastructure and he hopes to use funds to invest in programs that pay dividends for years to come.
“Let’s have the opportunity to take that into training centers like they did in Troy, Mo. … Their high school got together with their local community leaders to build a manufacturing training center on their school grounds.
They picked up together in the private sector, the state, the high school and Ranken College and literally built a training center on high school grounds in their community,” he said. “That’s the kind of investment I want to make in the state of Missouri long term.”