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Developing A Skilled Workforce Still A Work In Progress For Nevada

When companies invest in new facilities, they want to be able to hire employees with the skills to be productive.

Schools and other workforce development entities want to train people for jobs that exist.

Unscrambling that chicken and egg conundrum is a challenge in creating the New Nevada, where jobs require brains, not just a strong back.

The Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance, the public-private agency that woos development to Southern Nevada, has released a report that says the region’s workforce might already be more educated than many realize. The area’s influx of newcomers has doubled the number of workers in the market with bachelor’s degrees since 2000, according to the study.

“We have a workforce that is incredibly underrated and misunderstood. The truth is we have a young, diverse, socially intelligent, highly productive workforce,” Jonas Peterson with the LVGEA told KNPR's State of Nevada.

The report acknowledges that the quality of Nevada’s education system still lags, even though the Las Vegas area’s high school graduation rate has improved more than 10 percent in the last decade.

“A lot of things are working in our favor, yet we have room to improve," he said, "Room to improve how we align those target industries. How we get our young people and our working age population excited about the industries where most of the jobs are going to be.”

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The target industries he is referring to are the industries that analysts believe the region can really excel at with some effort and focus.

“We’re seeing an explosion coming in logistics and manufacturing, health care and education services are creating a lot of jobs right now," Peterson said, "We expect that trend to continue. There is a lot of potential in emerging technology, in energy.” 

Robert Lang with the Brookings Insitute West said Nevada can expand its economic base not by bringing in brand new industries but by building on the strengths we already have in hospitality, health, and gaming. But, the state needs to find a way to better align workforce training with the jobs needed in those industries.

“We’re aligned in some areas fine. We have a wonderful hotel college. We have all kinds of applied media technology that match up well for the region," he said.

Lang pointed to Europe as an example of a workforce that is highly skilled but not necessarily college educated.

“There’s a path between someone getting a bachelor’s degree and not having any skills,” he said.

The Brookings Institute has long called for better use of community colleges as a way to offer training for skilled jobs without a four-year degree. 

One industry that is creating the well-paid, skilled jobs that are the goal of the New Nevada effort is gaming equipment manufacturing. The sector directly employs nearly 25,000 people in the state, with average pay near $90,000, and with an economic contribution of $24 billion, according to a separate study from the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers.

Marcus Prater is with the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers or AGEM as it is known. He said high-tech skills are now extremely important in his industry. For example, it once took mechanical skills to fix a slot machine, but now the "machines" are actually sophisticated computers that require high-tech know-how from software programs, graphic designers, mathematicians, and engineers. 

Prater said UNLV has an engineering program that they can hire graduates from but it really isn't enough.

“It has been a challenge to get the right kind of engineers," he said, "We do need to do a better job at attracting engineers from Silicon Valley and other parts of the country to come here.”

Both Peterson and Lang said that is one thing Nevada has long been good at: attracting workers from other parts of the country. Before the Great Recession, the Las Vegas region was one of the fastest growing areas of the country. Lang said the area is not back up to the pre-recession high but "labor migration" is happening fast in our area. 

Peterson believes all those involved in education, job training, workforce, and business development need to look ahead to what industries are emerging and will be the future of the city.

“In the next few months, we’re going to be diving deep into a workforce blueprint with many partners to revise those forecasts look at what the new needs of our economy are and then get students excited about it, get employers excited about it and try and match up with those needs,” he said.


Jonas Peterson, Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance; Robert Lang, Brookings Mountain West think tank at UNLV; Marcus Prater, Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers

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