WSJ: In Midwest, more job openings than job seekers. We have the people and the jobs, but the skills gap persists.

In Washington, as in much of the country, a skills gap – the mismatch between the training and education employers require and the attributes of job seekers – means jobs go unfilled. We’ve written about the problem often, drawing initially on a report by the Washington Roundtable and Boston Consulting Group that found:

There will be 740,000 job openings in Washington in the next five years. State job growth over this period is expected to be nearly three times the national average. The majority of job opportunities—particularly those that will support upward mobility and good quality of life—will be filled with workers who have postsecondary education or training. Recognizing the need to prepare our kids for these opportunities, the Washington Roundtable has set an ambitious goal: By 2030, 70 percent of Washington students will earn a postsecondary credential by the age of 26.

We are falling well short of that goal today. Only 31 percent of Washington high school students go on to attain a postsecondary credential by the age of 26. This is due to many factors, ranging from low high school graduation rates (particularly among historically underserved student groups) to insu icient preparation for college and a lack of student awareness about job opportunities and associated skill requirements.

Preparing less than a third of our kids for the best jobs of the future is not good enough. Not for our students, not for our state. Washington needs to more than double the postsecondary attainment rate for young people who grow up here to ensure they have access to jobs that will enable them to support families, take advantage of opportunities for upward mobility and provide good quality of life.

Rural communities face significant economic challenges, though we’re beginning to see a turnaround in many rural counties. Manufacturing is disproportionately important to rural prosperity

Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal identified stark challenges in the rural heartland.

It is a problem playing out in many parts of the Midwest, a region with lower unemployment and higher job-opening rates than the rest of the country. Employers, especially in more rural areas, are finding that there are just too few workers. That upends a long-running view in Washington, D.C., and many state capitals, where policy makers often say the unemployed simply lack the skills to get hired.

We hasten to point out that the “long-running view” of a skills gap remains valid in Washington and other states with vibrant economies. But we’re nonetheless sympathetic to the dangers of low-unemployment and low-population rural communities falling further behind economically because employers cannot fill vacant positions. 

The national unemployment rate held at a 17-year low of 4.1% for five straight months, and the number of job openings is at a record.

In the Midwest, the worker shortage is even more pronounced.

If every unemployed person in the Midwest was placed into an open job, there would still be more than 180,000 unfilled positions, according to the most recent Labor Department data. The 12-state region is the only area of the country where job openings outnumber out-of-work job seekers.

The problem is compounded by migration patterns.

The Midwest has seen an outflow of people. A net 1.3 million people living in the Midwest in 2010 had left by the middle of last year, according to census data. The area also attracts fewer immigrants than the rest of the country. As a result, Midwest employers are more dependent on filling jobs with workers who already live there.

While we know there are people upset by Washington’s recent wave of population growth. We should welcome the opportunities that draw people to our state. And, at the same time, we need to continue work to make sure Washington kids are prepared for the jobs being created here