The (task) force is with us

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Kootenai County is well-represented at a table that could end up feeding many in the state well.

When Gov. Butch Otter's 36-member Higher Education Task Force had its organizational meeting Friday, Steve Meyer of Parkwood Business Properties in Coeur d'Alene was there. So was state Sen. Bob Nonini of Coeur d'Alene, and Idaho Board of Education member Don Soltman from Twin Lakes. Also there was North Idaho College President Rick MacLennan. All four are powerful education proponents who know how to get things done, a quality that appears universal throughout the panel's membership.

They're going to need every bit of that can-do attitude in the months ahead.

As you've no doubt seen, Idaho's go-on rate — students continuing some form of education or training after high school — is among the lowest in the nation. And it's declining, from 54 percent in 2013 to 46 percent in 2015. Otter & Co. are working feverishly to reverse that trend, so more of our citizens learn skills that will lead to good jobs in an increasingly competitive environment. Those jobs can be welding, nursing, auto repair, teacher, plumber, doctor, software engineer and many more. What simply won't work anymore is taking your high school diploma to a prospective employer and expecting to earn a decent wage doing something you like.

The gap between Idaho's faltering go-on rate and those good jobs is somewhat masked by the fact that for the past few years, Idaho has ranked among the top states in the nation for job growth. Yet Idaho consistently ranks in the bottom 20 percent for average wages. The pain of that statistic is evident right here in gorgeous Coeur d'Alene, where 43 percent of citizens live close to the poverty line.

While Meyer, Nonini, Soltman, MacLennan and the other 32 are focused on making higher education in Idaho more effective, another governor-appointed group has been assembled. The 17-member Governor's Workforce Development Task Force also includes three Kootenai County dynamos: Tim Komberec of Empire Airlines, Bob Boeh of Idaho Forest Group, and Marie Price of North Idaho College. As much as these groups can chart a path toward prosperity, they can't alter the course alone.

Please stand ready to do your part to improve the educational and training landscape in our great state. It's going to require the best efforts of all of us.

Along those lines, a thought-provoking column penned by Rod Gramer, CEO of Idaho Business for Education, appears on page A6 of today's paper. Please read it and consider the risks and rewards confronting Idahoans.

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