The House Workforce Development Committee met for the first time during the current legislative session Jan. 28, welcoming Rob Dixon, Director of the Department of Economic Development, and Zora Mulligan, Commissioner of the Department of Higher Education, who teamed up to present a report on Missouri’s work force issues. Dixon said Governor Parson’s priorities of workforce development and infrastructure improvements currently are driving the economic development and higher education agendas.

Dixon said Missouri has been under-performing during the past decade in the area of economic development, compared to 14 nearby states.

Mulligan noted that Missouri is a net importer of lower-skilled people (those without college degrees). While the state ranks above the national average of residents with high school diplomas, more college-educated citizens are needed to fill available jobs in Missouri.

For every 100 Missourians who enter high school, on average 88 will graduate from high school, and 51 go on to seek post-secondary education, Mulligan said.

“We’re twelfth out of 14 states for workforce productivity,”Mulligan said. The issue is, “how to get more people, more skills.”

Dixon said through Governor Parson’s recent executive orders, the Department of Economic Development is realigning itself around businesses and around regions of the state. And, Mulligan was optimistic about the Division of Workforce Development being moved into the Department of Higher Education.

“These are the most strategic changes and the most solid planning we have done in more than a decade,” Dixon said. The proposed Fast-Track Workforce Incentive Grant Program and other customized programs hopefully will be a boost to Missouri’s workforce in the near future.

Dixon said the respective departments would be evaluating such programs on an ongoing basis, “every single day to make sure we are on track,” with communication channels open to the public and to the General Assembly.

Karen Buschmann of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry later told the committee that the biggest concern of Missouri businesses is lagging growth in the state’s labor force.

“1.6 million workers will retire in the next 20 years, and they’ll be replaced by only 1.4 million workers,” she said. “We need to make the most of every worker we have.”