Reloading talent

The economy continues to grow at a slow but steady pace, and Ohio business leaders are waiting for this change in direction to translate into growth for their businesses.

But with the improved economy comes another challenge for Ohio’s businesses — finding and maintaining qualified, highly educated workers to help companies compete for a bright future.

Nationwide, the shortage of workers with some college-level skills could reach more than 12 million by 2020, according to a 2002 report prepared for the U.S. Department of Education. And 70 percent of CEOs surveyed consider the difficulty of finding and retaining skilled workers a barrier to growth.

Ohio’s business leaders know a highly motivated and well-educated work force is key to Ohio’s ability to sustain itself economically and remain viable into the next decade. Fortunately, Ohio’s workers — especially working adults — have taken notice of this need for additional education, and institutions of higher education are responding.

A recent editorial in The Cleveland Plain Dealer indicated a positive trend as it relates to a well-educated work force — the number of Ohioans seeking higher education rose 8 percent at state colleges and universities from fall 1998 to fall 2002. During that same period, enrollment at proprietary schools soared by nearly 26 percent. And much of the enrollment at the proprietary, or private, schools comes from the working-adult population.

Yet Ohio is still struggling to be average when it comes to providing businesses with an educated work force. According to a study published by the Ohio Board of Regents in September 2000, Ohio trailed the national averages in all four categories of college educational attainment. As the nature of business evolves to adapt to technological advances and globalization, an educated local population becomes an increasingly important incentive to locate here or elsewhere.

Businesses don’t come here for the weather. Until we can provide the kind of infrastructure that other emerging cities such as Charlotte and Austin do, Columbus and Ohio’s other cities are at a disadvantage when it comes to those important decisions. That infrastructure includes the local talent pool.

Many working adults who go back to college to get a degree do it to broaden their job opportunities and increase their earnings potential. Employers look favorably upon candidates and employees who have been disciplined enough to return to college as a working adult to further their education. As a result, many adults currently in Ohio’s work force are going back to school either to gain the educational skills required for a career change or to increase their value to their current employer.

And more education means lower unemployment and greater earnings for these workers, according to research by Sallie Mae, the nation’s leading provider of education funding. In 2001, the unemployment rate was 2.5 percent for Americans who held a bachelor’s degree and 2.1 percent for Americans who held a master’s degree — significantly lower than the 4.7 percent national unemployment rate for that year.

Residents who held a bachelor’s degree earned a median income of $46,969 per year; those with a master’s degree earned a median income of $56,589 per year. In contrast, median earnings for high school graduates without college degrees were $29,187 per year.

These statistics show that earning a bachelor’s or master’s degree greatly benefits individual workers. But Ohio employers will also benefit from having a more educated work force that will help prepare businesses for the inevitable and fundamental changes facing the state’s economy. Eric Ziehlke is the associate campus director for the University of Phoenix-Columbus Campus. The University of Phoenix is the nation’s largest private university, with more than 186,000 students at more than 139 campuses in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. Reach Ziehlke at (614) 433-0095 or [email protected].