The 31st annual State of Missoula conference was held Tuesday at the Doubletree Hotel sponsored by the Missoula Chamber of Commerce with the theme 'Help Wanted: Addressing Montana's Workforce Shortage'.

Chamber President and CEO Kim Latrielle said there is a workforce shortage projected in Montana over the next decade.

"We put a panel together for all our business people to let them know about the things happening in our high schools, in our Missoula College, in the Missoula Job Service with grants to help people find the training, and maybe find that career path and encourage people who may have given up looking would come back to the work force," Latrielle said. "They're estimating there may be about 6.500 new jobs a year that we will need to fill, and with only about 4,000 kids coming out of high school, there's definitely a gap."

Montana Department of Labor and Industry Commissioner Pam Bucy gave the audience a 'lay of the land' address on the current Montana economy.

"The economy looks great, by the way," Bucy said. "usually, you would never hear anyone complaining about low unemployment levels, but we do have an interesting phenomenon in that we have a lot of baby-boomers about to retire over the next decade and not as many 16 to 24 year-olds to fill those slots as we'd like.We're putting partnerships together between higher education and private sector employers."

Bucy said Montana will have to compete for workers with surrounding states who may offer higher wages and better benefits.

"Our wages are going up, but they're still very low and that's why we've put a program together called 'Choose Montana', where we invite our alumni back. We're trying to let companies know that Montana is a great place to do business, so we're turning up the dial on higher ed and workforce training programs to keep people here in the state."

Both Latrielle and Bucy said older workers will have more opportunities because there are not enough younger people to fill all the available positions over the next decade.

Also speaking at the event were Dean of the Missoula College, Shannon O'Brien, Big Sky High School Principal Natalie Jaeger and Shawn Horton of DIRECTV.


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