A survey released earlier this year suggests the Ozark region has a workforce problem. The survey asked businesses in the Ozark region questions about the state of the workforce in the area, and a majority indicated they have difficulty finding applicants with the relevant knowledge and skills to fill jobs.
If employers are looking for a more skilled workforce, getting more students to earn industry-recognized credentials (IRCs) would be a step in the right direction. IRCs are credentials awarded from industry groups after passing an exam, allowing the bearer to demonstrate proficiency in a specific field. Earning an IRC is a great way to jump immediately from high school to a job.
85 percent of businesses responding to the workforce survey said they have some or considerable difficulty finding applicants with an IRC (only around a quarter of respondents said IRCs were not applicable). According to the survey respondents, IRCs are the most challenging type of educational attainment for employers to find in prospective employees, even including postsecondary degrees.
The variety of survey respondents is also notable. Responses came from a number of industries including healthcare, education, manufacturing, construction, and finance. This is good evidence that the problem of IRC scarcity is widespread and not just confined to pockets of the Ozark economy. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has approved 81 types of IRC exams; only 16 of those exams were completed successfully by an Ozark student. In total, a mere 470 IRCs were awarded to high school students in the Ozark region in 2017. If each IRC was earned by a different student in the graduating class, then only 8 percent of Ozark graduates would have an IRC. The real number is likely even lower than 8 percent, because one student can earn multiple IRCs.
The survey responses make it clear that there’s unmet demand in the Ozark region for students graduating with an IRC in hand. One way to increase IRC attainment is to offer a financial incentive to schools and teachers. An IRC bonus pay program would give teachers financial compensation for each of their students that earn an IRC. Florida implemented an IRC bonus pay program and saw an explosion in students earning IRCs.
The Ozark region has a workforce problem that IRCs could help solve. It’s time to get creative in finding ways to prepare students for life after high school.