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Wayne Hammon opines:  A strong construction industry fuels a healthy economy, providing high-paying jobs and promising career options for young people.

Well-paid workers spend money on homes, furniture, cars, and services – just about everything. This “multiplier effect” further advances the economy and lifts everybody.

Good construction jobs are available right here in Idaho, and our construction industry needs workers – qualified, well-educated workers.

But the days when a strong back or skill with a hammer was good enough to land one of these jobs are long gone. Today we need men and women who can fit into a complex, technologically advanced process that delivers a quality product on time and on budget.

As executive director of the Idaho Associated General Contractors, I hear a common complaint from construction companies across the state: “We’re spending too much time and money teaching new hires basic skills they should have learned by now.”

Too often new employees are good, hard workers but lack important skills like reading, writing, math or even balancing a checkbook. They struggle with critical thinking skills, good communication and working in teams – all things they should have learned in high school.

In the debate over how to improve Idaho’s schools, it’s important to remember that this is not just about getting more students to college (although that has its place in the construction industry, too). A good K-12 education means preparing every graduate for success in the workplace – whatever career path he or she may choose.

Obviously, the construction industry needs to provide training through a variety of avenues, from on-the-job training to collaborating with two- or four-year colleges. What is frustrating is the need to first provide remedial education to new hires.

By now we have all heard the statistics – that the U.S. is slipping compared to other industrial nations and that Idaho scores poorly on a variety of national measures of K-12 education.

Most people accept that we need to do better. But what is the solution? Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. Many well-informed and well-intentioned people have differing opinions, but we can agree that we have a problem and need to find solutions.

The Idaho AGC supports the “Don’t Fail Idaho” campaign, a statewide effort to unite all stakeholders in a productive conversation on our education opportunities and challenges.

The construction industry is committed to doing its part. We’ll spend the time, money and effort to train our workforce. That’s a sound investment. But we need an education system that delivers young men and women with a high school education that has prepared them for success in life.

As Idaho tackles this problem, it’s important to remember that education reform is not a liberal or conservative issue; it affects everybody. K-12 education produces the foundation for all that we do. High school is certainly not the end of education – if anything, it is just the beginning of a lifelong process of learning – but it is a critical base upon which future success is built. Students who graduate unprepared run the risk of never catching up.

If our young people fail, if our educational system fails, then we all fail. Everyone has a stake in this issue, and everyone should be on the side of success. The answers may not be easy, but if we as a state and society take determined action, then we can succeed.

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