Numerous factors are contributing to today’s dynamics of workforce training in Nevada—the approach, the offerings and the delivery—which continue to evolve to meet the needs of employers and employees.
The Silver State keeps creating jobs at a record pace, the fastest in the United States for the sixth consecutive month as of the end of March 2019. Then, the year-over-year rate increase was 3.4 percent, according to Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR). Of all of the Nevada’s metropolitan statistical areas (MSA), Reno-Sparks experienced the highest year-over-year job growth rate, of 5.8 percent, or 13,900 new jobs. The Las Vegas MSA grew 2.8 percent, adding 27,500 jobs.
However, the pipeline of trained and educated workers isn’t sufficient to fill all of the openings. That is particularly true for the highly technical ones, such as in manufacturing, and the middle skill ones, like surgical technicians, software developers and construction trades, said Dr. Federico Zaragoza, president/CEO, College of Southern Nevada (CSN), a public community college in Clark County.
“If you look at the metric there, you see that, maybe, for every one graduate who is eligible for these jobs, there are 10 to 15 jobs that go unfilled,” he added.
Compounding the tight labor market are the state’s growing population but low unemployment. The jobless rate for the Reno-Sparks MSA was 3.1 percent in March, a level not seen since May 2000, according to RCG Economics data. For the Las Vegas MSA, it was 3.8 percent, the same as for the U.S. as a whole. For Nevada overall, it was 4.2 percent.
Also, a shift is taking place in the types of jobs being created, toward quality, skilled, higher-paying ones, said Nancy McCormick, senior vice president retention, expansion and workforce development, Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada (EDAWN). This in part is due to the Silver State continuing to develop and diversify its economy.
Another driver is the growth of automation and artificial intelligence, which is making some occupations obsolete, displacing the workers. Simultaneously, other jobs are coming online that require brand new skills and more education, requiring that some workers change careers or retrain.
Against that backdrop, workforce quality and quantity are the most important considerations for companies when deciding on a location, said Jonas Peterson, CEO, Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance (LVGEA), Southern Nevada’s regional development authority. Thus, they’re critical to attracting new enterprises and retaining existing ones, thereby growing the economies of the state wholly and of its various regions.
“Prospective companies want to know what the workforce looks like today, but they are even more focused on how education and training providers will continue to build the workforce five years from now,” Peterson added.
Today’s Training Trends
A major occurrence in today’s workforce training development and delivery in Nevada is the formation of partnerships to achieve an employee training end. Entities engaging in training partnerships include economic and workforce development agencies, privately-owned businesses, chambers of commerce, community colleges and universities, school districts, training centers and others.
The state’s workforce development agency, the DETR, actively seeks collaborations in providing job training, placement and other services, particularly to the state’s historically under served or underemployed people. One of its partnerships is with Starbucks, in which people with special needs or disabilities can receive on-site classroom and paid hands-on training at the company’s Minden roasting plant and, after completion, be considered for hire. Of the 40 program participants, Starbucks has employed 33.
Also, DETR has established partnerships with many K-12 school districts, community colleges and other educational institutions to identity individuals in this population and provide them with various job-related services and support. The agency also provides, free of charge, various services, including training, exploration opportunities, strategy development and more.
Two-year and four-year schools are working together. Sierra Nevada College (SNC), through its Project Eagle, is expanding its partnerships with Nevada’s community colleges, now collaborating with Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC). That partnership allows students who want to obtain a bachelor’s degree from a fouryear university to accomplish that goal on the community college’s campus, according Dr. Alan Walker, president of Incline Village-based SNC, Nevada’s only private, four-year, higher education institution. This approach boosts the number of students who successfully “transfer” (they don’t actually change campuses) and obtain the higher degree.
“It’s not a prevalent model across the country in higher education, but I predict it will become more and more common as times goes by,” Walker added.
In another arrangement, the CSN, a community college, and Nevada State College, a four-year school, plan to partner so that students, for example, can seamlessly earn a registered nursing degree from the former and then a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, from the latter, by attending a single, jointly operated and managed facility in Henderson. Should the Nevada Legislature fund this new $70 million health and science facility this session, programs likely would start in 2022.
“It could enroll up to 2,000 students into the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) pipeline,” Zaragoza said. “That is such a game changer.”
The LVGEA is working with Workforce Connections, a Southern Nevada workforce development board, and the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce to develop Workforce Blueprint 2.0, an update to the original, Peterson said. The report will characterize the workforce needed to support Southern Nevada’s economy through 2025, identify high-demand occupations and existing workforce deficits and surpluses and align existing resources to fill the gaps. The most in-demand jobs identified in the original Workforce Blueprint include managers, nurses, teachers and software developers.
As for EDAWN, on an ongoing basis, it works with companies, education and the state Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) to identify in-demand jobs and hard and soft skills Northern Nevada’s workforce needs, helps create and enhance training programs to meet the demands and advocates for work-based learning, McCormick said.
Addressing Specific Employer Needs
Efforts are being placed on providing programs that address the specific areas of need, McCormick said. In Northern Nevada, the top five highest-demand occupations are software developers, computer systems analysts, licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses, industrial machinery mechanics and industrial engineers. In response, University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) is expanding the student and space capacity of its College of Engineering. The Robotics Academy of Nevada, a collaborative, statewide professional development program for teachers, aimed at reinforcing among students the importance of STEM education and garnering their interest, will launch this summer. Work also is being done to get coding and robotics education into every Nevada school.
SNC chooses what degree and other programs it’s going to provide based on the state’s workforce development needs and how the college can leverage its existing curriculum strengths to fulfill those, Walker said.
“It’s a continuous process of doing an academic program review in terms of what the demand is like, what we’re seeing in terms of the data, what our recruiters are seeing and analyzing that,” he added.
Employers now are asking that Nevada’s workforce be trained in soft skills as well as hard, Zaragoza said. Those include the ability to work on a team, solve problems, effectively manage time and communicate well. Therefore, education and training providers are integrating those into their existing programming as well.
“We need to be nimble enough to be able to align instructional programs to the local labor market,” Zaragoza added.
Apprenticeships, Internships, Explorations
Today, employers are willing to invest more in training to gain and retain workers and increase productivity, Peterson said. As such, apprenticeships, also called “work-based learning” or “learn-and-earn” opportunities, are growing in popularity and expanding beyond the traditional construction and skilled trades into health, business, information technology and more, said Dr. Tiffany Tyler-Garner, director, DETR.
These employer-embedded training programs allow prospective workers to get paid while gaining on-the-job experience. They also allow employers to train individuals in areas where they have a need with an eye toward hiring them afterward.
“The discussion at the federal level and the Department of Labor is that they’re going to be infusing more money into the apprenticeship system,” Zaragoza said.
In a similar vein, SNC strives to ensure as many of its students, in their junior year, participate in an internship, most often paid, at a company or other entity, before graduating, Walker said.
A variation of apprenticeships on the rise is exploration programs, in which students can see what a certain job or industry is like and perhaps get some experience, Tyler-Garner said. For instance, 40 Nevada government departments, half in the south, half in the north, have committed to offering internships this summer.
Another trend is helping workers convert, with additional classes required, any past college credits or training into a bachelor’s degree, Walker said. For example, SNC’s Bachelor of General Studies degree targets people with some completed college courses and perhaps credits from multiple institutions.
“If they just need a bachelor’s degree, it’s the best way to go. It’s usually the shortest route to finishing,” Walker said.
In the college’s Prior Learning Assessment program, past military training or internal corporate training or education can be converted to up to 15 upper division credits towards a degree.
Expediting the Process
Currently in Nevada, there’s greater emphasis on speeding up employee training.
“Because of the urgent need [for qualified workers], shorter, more flexible programs have been developed, geared around students’ lifestyles and schedules, to enable them to ‘get in, get out and get a job,’” McCormick said.
One way this is being done is through stackable program offerings, in which a student can rapidly gain basic industry skills through a certificate program then later complement that with an associate’s degree and then build on that with a bachelor’s degree. Examples of this are CSN’s applied science pathway. Students receive certificate(s) to an Associate of Applied Science degree that lead to a Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS) degree. Another example is CSN’s nursing track which takes students from a licensed practical nurse to a registered nurse to a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. CSN’s BAS is new, approved and potentially will be offered this fall. At the same time, another new bachelor’s will launch, a BAS in Project Management.
Fast-tracked training is accomplished, too, through dual-enrollment programs for high school students, in which they take community college credits (some even attaining a full associate’s degree) while finishing high school. More such programs will come online as mandated by Senate Bill 19, passed in 2017. The legislation requires Nevada’s school districts to partner with Nevada System of Higher (NSHE) Education institutions to expand these opportunities statewide.
Modes of Delivery
The delivery of training and education have evolved to now include “online or hybrid models, digital elements, flexible enrollment and easy entry and exit,” McCormick said. This is particularly critical for Nevadans with jobs and/or who don’t have easy access to brick-and-mortar facilities. For instance, 70 percent of CSN’s students attend school part-time, and 30 percent of its students are taking courses online, Zaragoza said.
SNC, which already has some entirely online master’s degrees, in teachers education and psychology for instance, intends to rapidly expand this portfolio, adding degrees that affect workforce development like entrepreneurship and accounting. The college currently is seeking accreditor approval to launch, in the fall, a Master of Business Administration degree, initially online and then incorporating in-person courses.
The Northern Nevada-based college, known for its graduate level teacher education, just launched a Bachelor of Elementary Education that it’s offering remotely at its Reno and Henderson sites. This is another example of stacking as SNC already provides a master’s degree in that field, also through its branch campuses.
Next Several Years
Many of the current trends—partnerships, apprenticeships, convenience-oriented offerings, employer commitment to training—are expected to continue and increase over the medium term, the experts said. Education and training providers will continue adapting their offerings to ensure that existing and prospective employer and employee needs are accommodated as best as possible.
“Continued emphasis on STEM/STEAM (the “A” for arts) and funding for education and training for new employees and existing workforce are critical to continued growth and economic development in the state,” McCormick said.