A workforce development program in Missouri is set to expire in August, but the state Senate passed a bill to make it permanent. The bill is now in the state House.
The Fast Track Workforce Incentive Grant Program provides full-tuition scholarships to adults 25 and older who want to get a short-term credential or a degree in an area designated as high need, such as allied health, computer science, business, accounting, or education.
Zora Mulligan, commissioner of the Missouri Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development, noted the number of applications have almost doubled in the last year.
“When we look at the kinds of things people are studying through Fast Track, there are things that make sense if you think about the areas where there’s a lot of openings in your community and where people have an opportunity to make a good living,” Mulligan explained.
Grant recipients are required to graduate, stay in Missouri, and find eligible employment within a year; otherwise, the money defaults into a loan. They are also required to maintain employment in the state for at least three years.
Mulligan pointed out employers such as the Missouri Hospital Association, for instance, have been seeking job candidates from the Fast Track program even before COVID-19 because they had such acute workforce needs. She stressed the program benefits students and employers greatly, with little cost for the state.
“We’re going to need a great pipeline of talent to continue to meet those needs,” Mulligan emphasized. “So the program is very specifically tailored to meet very widely understood needs. And I think it’s kind of a no-brainer when we talk about extending it.”
Mulligan added the pandemic has only exacerbated the need for workers in the health care industry, and educators and school administrators have also been leaving the workforce.
Gov. Mike Parson has proposed increasing the minimum teacher salary from $25,000 a year to $38,000. While many school districts pay more, he hopes it will encourage potential teachers to join the public school system.