Politics & Government

Candidates for governor: Kansas needs to emphasize technical education

FILE -- A Spirit AeroSystems employee works on a Boeing 737 fuselage.
FILE -- A Spirit AeroSystems employee works on a Boeing 737 fuselage. File photo

Kansas’ shortage of skilled labor workers will confront the next governor, Republican or Democrat.

The men running for the office are quick to tout the importance of a strong labor force. They say Kansas must enhance technical and vocational education. Some say it must also boost its image after years of financial problems that made national headlines.

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Kansas had about 45,000 job vacancies in 2016, according to the latest available survey by the state Department of Labor, which looked at vacancies in the second quarter of the year.

For every 100 jobs, about 3.2 were vacant, according to the survey. Half of the vacancies either lasted more than 30 days or were always open.

Meanwhile, the state’s labor force has shrunk from more than 1,525,000 in 2009 to about 1,480,000 today. The state’s unemployment rate stands at a low 3.9 percent.

The Eagle asked candidates how they would develop the state’s workforce. Here are comments, condensed for length, from those who responded.

Jim Barnett, Republican

“We’re not training the workforce we need right now in Kansas. In part, this ties into partnering business with education ... We’re doing that in some places around the state but that needs to become a priority and programmatic in our education system, which really should start in the high school years and certainly should be ramped up in the community colleges, technical colleges and our universities.”

“So we have the need to invest in that, and the governor needs to make that a priority.”

Carl Brewer, Democrat

“Kansas must model the world’s leading skills-development and apprenticeship programs. We must promote apprenticeship enrollment. We will turn our state around by structuring workforce funding to promote effective and innovative models of on-the-job training.”

“We must stop the brain drain from Kansas. As governor, I will create incentives to retain these students who graduate from our colleges and universities by reducing their debt load if they locate permanently in our great state.”

Wink Hartman, Republican

“As governor, I’ll expand Kansas’ technical education programs, and we’ll encourage students to consider that path. I’d also emphasize technical education in our K-12 curriculum. We need to show Kansas students they can make a solid, family-supporting living working with their hands, and teach them how to do it.”  

“I’ve spent a lifetime creating Kansas jobs, and I know that developing our skilled labor workforce is an important part of fixing our economy and putting us back on the right track.”

Mark Hutton, Republican

“As someone who has created hundreds of jobs across Kansas and felt the immense responsibility of having employees put their families’ livelihoods in my hands, I understand the challenges facing Kansas companies and our state's workforce.… We need a governor who has not only the experience of creating jobs, but the ability to move important reforms forward to help small businesses and better educate the workforce of tomorrow.”

“Our institutions of higher education need to better adapt to give their graduates the skills that the modern day workforce requires.”

Kris Kobach, Republican

“I believe that skilled workers will go where the best jobs are, and that means attracting and retaining the business that provide those jobs. To do so, I would reduce the high income taxes and burdensome regulations that are already driving businesses out of Kansas. I also believe that Kansas should devote more attention to its trade schools to ensure that they are the best in the country and to ensure that they connect skilled workers with job opportunities in Kansas.”

Ed O’Malley, Republican

“We can’t solve this problem by going down the same tired path. It’s time for new ideas and a new direction. Imagine if we created the best lifelong learning system in the world, right here in Kansas. When we do that companies will locate here and expand here because of the quality workforce. Great education leads to a thriving, growing economy for generations to come.” 

Josh Svaty, Democrat

“We have to have a robust education system in conjunction with the community college and technical college system to be preparing homegrown employees for the manufacturing sector, which is a crucial part of the state economy.”

“But I think there is a broader issue....We know that businesses are making decisions on which state they will move to in part based on the presence of discriminatory laws or a legislature that has been debating those types of laws … and that’s in part the altruism of the business but it also an economic reality of the business. They know they have to be able to attract that workforce.”

Jim Ward, Democrat

“It takes stability from the state government level. We can’t have the extreme policy swings that we have been seeing. Once we establish that stability, that you’re a stable and reliable partner, the next thing is we need to continue our investment in a well-trained workforce, and that term is being diversified.”

“The third piece is making it affordable so people can get the training to get into the workforce … we have to interact with the businesses that are hiring to make sure we’re training in the skills they need.”