Pandemic changing forever how residents live, work

Thursday, October 8, 2020

BOISE, Idaho (AP) _ The way Idaho's residents live and work is being changed forever by the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Brad Little said Wednesday.

The Republican governor in a speech about the future of work said it's important for employers and workers to be flexible and innovative, and to ``respond to challenges thoughtfully as they arise.''

Little also announced the creation of the Youth Apprenticeship Program funded by a $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. It pairs young people, mainly juniors and seniors in high school but also workers up to 24 years old, with businesses to give them workforce experience.

``It might sound a little strange to be starting this new initiative during a pandemic, but the realities are that Idaho employers desperately need skilled employees across the board,'' Little said.

The program is part of a statewide effort to have 60% of 25- to 34-year-old workers obtain a postsecondary credential of some kind.

``Trustworthiness, effective communication and problem solving were the top professional skills across industries,'' Little said of what employers are seeking in potential workers. ``And those are skills that are always learned by doing.''

Business leaders who took part in the event said they'd much rather hire someone who had gone through an apprenticeship than someone fresh off the street.

Little pointed to Idaho's 4.2% unemployment rate _ the third-lowest in the nation _ as evidence of the state's rebounding economy, and that businesses expect to be hiring over the next six months.

Idaho's unemployment rate soared to more than 11% after Little issued a stay-at-home order in March when COVID-19 entered the state. The order ended April 30, and the state successfully advanced at two-week intervals through the first three of Little's four-stage reopening plan.

The state remains stalled in stage four, but that stage has no restrictions. Little, who wears a face covering in public, has not issued a statewide mask mandate. But eight of Idaho's 44 counties, along with nine cities, have such requirements.

Virus infections have climbed with the reopening of the economy. Through Tuesday, Idaho had more than 45,000 known infections and nearly 500 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The positivity rate among people being tested has also climbed in recent weeks, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, most recently hitting 9.4%. Officials recommend it stay under 5%.

Little said an unfortunate consequence of the pandemic is schools shifting to remote learning, causing students without inadequate resources such as internet access or computers to fall behind.

``Our most economically challenged and socially challenged students are in the achievement gap, and the pandemic has exacerbated that gap,'' Little said. ``We want to move them from being recipients of government spending to becoming economic contributors and part of a much-needed workforce.``

Little restated his goal of getting all kids reading proficiently by the end of third grade despite the pandemic.

The event, held virtually due to the pandemic, was called the Governor's Summit on the Future of Work. It was arranged by the Idaho Workforce Development Council, an independent office under the governor, and Idaho Businesses for Education, a group of about 200 businesses that counts improving education and creating an educated, highly skilled workforce among its goals.

Those two entities are teaming up to run the youth apprenticeship program.

``In the years ahead it will give hundreds, if not thousands, of students a clear pathway to good, well-paying careers in Idaho,'' said Rod Gramer, president and CEO of Idaho Business for Education.

Organizers said that about 400 people registered to take part. The livestream event could also be viewed without registering.