CARSON CITY — High-tech industries that demand a highly skilled workforce are the push behind two bills seeking a combined $9.5 million for workforce development.
The Senate Finance committee on Tuesday heard but took no action on Senate Bill 493 and Senate Bill 496, both of which were presented by state Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, D-Henderson, and were recommended by an interim legislative committee on community colleges.
Another measure, Senate Bill 236, seeks $10,000 for a STEM advisory council to host statewide events and recognize students for exemplary achievement in science, technology, engineering and math.
SB496, with a $6 million price tag, would create the Workforce Development Rapid Response Investment Program to help community colleges and Nevada State College quickly establish training programs for high-tech companies in need of workers with specific skills.
The funding was not included in Gov. Brian Sandoval’s $7.3 billion general fund budget proposal.
Education and regional economic development officials said that with the arrival of Tesla, the expansion of Switch data centers, and the increasing buzz from companies looking to locate in Nevada, the need to assure a qualified workforce is bigger than ever.
After Tesla announced its decision to build its $5 billion battery factor at the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center east of Reno, Western Nevada College has had a number of meetings with the electric car maker, said Chester Burton, the Carson City-based college’s interim president.
“When the demand for skilled employees comes, it’s going to come fast and it’s going to be large,” Burton told the committee.
But it’s not just Tesla that needs workers.
Collie Hutter, chairman of Click Bond Inc., a manufacturer of adhesives, tools and parts for 28 years, said replacing retiring workers is an ongoing challenge.
“We do pay for education for all our employees,” Hutter said. She said as more and more workers in the baby-boom generation retire, just replacing those workers is a challenge.
Hutter added that because of rapid advances in technology, some companies must retrain employees every 18 months.
Michael Richards, president of College of Southern Nevada, echoed those sentiments. He said the funding would allow colleges to be “nimble, agile and be responsive to market needs.
“We will be able to offer customized training with a quick turnaround,” Richards said.
Frank Woodbeck, executive director of Nevada College Collaborative, a program within the Nevada System of Higher Education to coordinate the needs of businesses with community colleges, said the funding would benefit core industries Nevada is trying to recruit through its economic development efforts, from manufacturing and aerospace to defense and medical technology.
“It’s very, very important that we begin to form curriculum that will begin to serve the needs of industry,” Woodbeck said.
He said other states, including Utah, Colorado, Arizona, Arkansas and Texas, have similar workforce development funding programs.
“The training aspect when you’re dealing with a company is a huge deal,” said Robert Hooper, executive director of the Northern Nevada Development Authority.
George Ross, representing Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance, also supported the bill. He noted that roughly 35 percent of companies cited a lack of skilled workers when deciding not to come to Nevada.
SB493, meanwhile, would allocate $3.5 million for a STEM workforce grant fund to be overseen by a committee. Grants would require a 100 percent match from private businesses or nonprofit organizations. Grant awards would be limited to $175,000 a year or $350,000 for a two-year period.
Mike Willden, the governor’s chief of staff, noted that Sandoval’s budget includes $3 million for a similar proposal.
Contact Sandra Chereb at email@example.com or 775-687-3901. Find her on Twitter: @SandraChereb.