In 2019, a survey of 800+ Montana employers revealed that the number one obstacle to expanding employment is a lack of skilled workers. An overwhelming number of employers observed that: (a) schools are not adequately preparing students for the workforce; (b) schools are not adequately teaching students interpersonal skills; and (c) a majority of new hires required additional skills training to do the job.

In January 2024, five years later, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce produced a national report on worker shortages. In that report, Montana is characterized as experiencing the “most severe” worker shortage index with 42 available workers for every 100 open jobs as of September 2023. There are 35,000 job openings reported for the state with only 14,691 unemployed workers.

For this January 2024 edition of our 12-month series, we want to address a basic question that may help explain these acute shortages – Is Montana’s education sector doing a good job preparing young adults to enter the workforce?

To answer this question, it is important to start by defining success as follows:

  • SUCCESS IS NOT enabling young adults to get a job. After all, employment is important, but if we want to set a high expectation, simply getting jobs is the bar around our ankles.
  • SUCCESS IS DEFINED as enabling young adults to obtain high paying jobs that yield earnings growth and upward mobility throughout their careers.

Right now, it is not hard for Montanans to find a job. According to media reports, there are 3 open positions for every 1 adult seeking employment in the state. However, what is unclear is if a broad cross-section of Montana’s young adults are being prepared to get the best jobs – those jobs that yield the highest pay, strongest earnings growth, and most upward mobility over time.