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Workers unprepared to compete

Futurist Ed Barlow tells local leaders that jobs requiring high skill levels are going unfilled despite high unemployment

Manufacturing jobs will continue to go offshore, and skilled foreign workers already hold many well-paid jobs unfilled by under-educated and undertrained Americans.

So Rogue Valley leaders were told Monday during a Rogue Valley Work force Development Council conference featuring futurist Ed Barlow of St. Joseph, Mich.

The world of tomorrow ... is going to be very different from the world you and I know today, Barlow told the gathering at Rogue Valley Manor's Skyline Plaza. If we start now to understand the differences, we can start to prepare ourselves, organizations, industries and communities to take advantage of the opportunities.

Businesses and communities creating an environment for businesses will need to stay in alignment in an increasingly complex and diverse global marketplace.

— Don't think for one minute that this is the only group meeting in this country today on this topic, he said. I'll guarantee you somewhere in the U.S. there are probably 250 groups meeting just like this, because they're facing the same issues and trying to figure out what to do.

After national security, the second-most important issue facing this country is a competitive work force, and we're losing that competitiveness. What's going to make what you do in the Rogue Valley better or different than what everybody is trying to do?

While manufacturing and agriculture jobs have already disappeared, he said, highly educated workers in aerospace, architectural, finance, accounting and information technology support positions will follow.

China's rapidly expanding economy, its investment, education and training is good reason for tomorrow's job seekers to study Mandarin Chinese today, Barlow said.

Despite high unemployment rates, many jobs requiring high-skilled workers go unfilled. Couple that with an aging work force heading for retirement and there will be an even greater gap.

Aggregately, based on even a conservative growth economy, the forecast suggests that we will not have enough people quantitatively to fill all the jobs that we are creating, Barlow said. If Americans don't produce skilled workers to fill job needs, foreign workers will take them, he added.

He said 77 percent of the wealth in America is held by people 50 or older. They buy 43 percent of all domestic autos and 48 percent of luxury cars. They account for 40 percent of total consumer demand, spending more on travel, recreation and groceries than any other age group and watch more television and read more than other age groups.

Now, markets forgot about that when they hired Generation X as junior members on their marketing staff, Barlow said. So you've seen a lot of shifting to younger folks in the media. Well, that's going to change, because now they realize who's got the money.

He said unskilled and low-skilled workers need to be motivated to stay in the work force.

The No. — reason good workers leave current employment is limited advancement potential, Barlow said.

He cited a Lane County McDonald's manager who couldn't keep employees for more than a year. She has now developed a partnership with a local bank that offers a job at the bank after two years' of reliable employment at the restaurant.

They've created upward mobility, he said That's a partnership that's got legs to it.

Hispanic market unserved An increasing Hispanic presence has created a burgeoning economic force in the United States.

In 1998, Hispanics purchased &

36;380 billion worth of goods and services. 2008, that number is expected to rise to &

36;1 trillion ' more than Mexico's gross national product.

The purchasing power of Los Angeles Latinos increases &

36;1 billion every six weeks, he said. The money the Hispanics make and spend is far in excess of the money they draw from social support systems. Retailers need to adapt their product to meet that demand.

He said that retailers complain that Hispanics aren't buying their products.

The reason is that they're not stocking what they want to buy, Barlow said. They'll get in their cars and drive 100 miles to communities whose retail stores do.

Oregon's Hispanic segment doubled to 8 percent between 1990 and 2000, although Jackson County lagged behind that figure at 6.7 percent.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail