Gov. Brown Releases $200 Million Workforce Development Plan

Sander Gusinow
Patsy Richards (top right) and Jennifer Purcell (bottom right) present Future Ready Oregon to the Labor and Business committee.

Future Ready Oregon focuses on training, workforce engagement and removing employment barriers to solve the state’s growing labor supply shortage

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Gov. Kate Brown’s $200 million workforce development plan — presented earlier this week at two committee meetings — seeks to expand recruitment and training in the construction, health care and manufacturing sectors. 

Members of the governor’s workforce policy and racial justice council presented her $200 million workforce development program, titled “Future Ready Oregon” to state lawmakers in two committee meetings Tuesday. The program also seeks to develop new job search and navigation tools and remove barriers to workforce entry for rural Oregonians, women and communities of color. 

Future Ready Oregon will come back to the committees for a work session and be formally approved or rejected when lawmakers meet in Salem in February.

Patsy Richards, director of the nursing workforce development company Long-Term Careworks Trust and co-chair of the governor’s racial justice council, told lawmakers on the Economic Recovery and Prosperity and Labor and Business committees that Oregon’s current workforce shortage — which the governor’s office estimated was a 300,000-employee gap — existed long before the pandemic. 

Richards told lawmakers an aging workforce has left a sizable skill gap in the construction and manufacturing sectors while healthcare worker burnout has meant fewer healthcare providers. She also said cultural barriers, lack of access to training and education resources, and childcare needs have kept women, rural Oregonians and people of color out of the workforce who might otherwise engage. 

Richards estimated that by 2030, 75% of Oregon’s workforce will be composed of millennial employees as baby boomers retire, compared to only 30% today. 

 “Our workforce is undergoing a revolution right now. An immediate response is required, but it must be an innovative response,” Richards said. “To do that, we simplified our approach: education and training that leads to employment.” 

Jennifer Purcell, the governor’s workforce policy advisor, said that in order to be successful, the program will work collaboratively with educational and community organizations and private institutions to train and connect job seekers with employers. 

“Our objective is to meet people where they’re at,” she said. 

The plan includes $82.5 million in continued investment in existing programs the governor’s office considers a success, including $35 million in funding local workforce boards, $17 million for community college career pathways programs, $20 million for registered apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs and $10.5 million for youth re-engagement initiatives. 

Future Ready Oregon will offer $95 million in competitive workforce readiness grants to individuals and organizations undertaking projects to improve access to job opportunities. Workforce service providers will be able to use this grant money to develop education and training pathways, including culturally and linguistically inclusive programs, and to expand their own workforce capacities.

These grants can also take the form of direct financial subsidies to individuals for “earn-and-learn” models of education, helping to pay for “wraparound” expenses such as training, tuition, fees, supplies, transportation, housing and childcare expenses. 

The plan also allocates $10 million to the benefits navigators pilot program for local workforce boards. The plan also establishes an industry consortium for construction, health care and manufacturing sectors. These consortia, to be co-led by a representative from the business community and a relevant community-based organization, will exist to make investment and policy recommendations to legislators. 

Finally, the plan budgets $1.5 million for data collection and oversight. 

Lawmakers seemed generally in favor of the program during the committee meeting. During the Labor and Business committee hearing one legislator raised the question of whether charter and other private schools would be engaged by the program, citing concern whether these institutions would not receive the same attention as public schools for workforce development programs. 

Purcell said that the short answer was yes but that specifics on how to engage private schools were still being figured out.

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