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  • Writer's pictureSherman Smith, Kansas Reflector

Nonprofit leader envisions path to marry Kansas workforce needs with education opportunities

Kansas businesses have more jobs than workers, and state universities are exporting 57% of graduates. A workforce pathway system could serve both students and businesses, says Torree Pederson, president and CEO of the Kansas City-based nonprofit Aligned. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

By Sherman Smith, Kansas Reflector

Torree Pederson envisions a Kansas where K-12 and college students have better opportunities to acquire the skills they need when they look for a job.

By collecting and analyzing data that is already available, she said businesses and educators can better serve students. As it is, she said, Kansas universities export 57% of their graduates to another state.

“We are an exporter of talent, and we have to figure out how to manage that,” Pederson said. “We have wonderful jobs, high-skill, high-wage jobs, here in Kansas. And the disconnect is often that kids don’t know about them. And a data pathway system is something that we can use to kind of marry the workforce opportunities with the students’ engagement and education opportunities.”

Pederson is the president CEO of Aligned, a Kansas City-based nonprofit serving both Kansas and Missouri, led by business leaders and working to invest in the workforce of tomorrow.

For the past year and a half, the organization has worked with agency officials and lawmakers in Kansas to create a proposed “workforce pathway system.” The organization introduced House Bill 2774 as a raw example of what the system could look like.

As spelled out in the legislation, the system would involve the collection of individual-level education and workforce data for the purpose of supporting an education-to-employment pipeline. A new office at the Department of Commerce would oversee the project.

The legislation didn’t receive a hearing this year, but Pederson said she hoped it would gain traction next year.

“The idea was to get it out there and let people understand that creating the workforce pathway system is more than creating or buying software,” Pederson said. “It’s truly creating a governance structure, and a staff, an organization, to be able to ensure that these data systems are secure, sustainable, and that they produce information, reports and answers that will serve lawmakers, department heads, public, and you know, parents and students.”

She said the data could be used to see if students taking dual credit courses in high school were more successful at two- and four-year institutions. Or, for example, are students with individual education plans more likely to end up in one type of job or another? And what programs in high schools are producing more graduates than others?

The same analysis could be applied to college-level courses, although she said the idea was not to eliminate liberal arts or courses tied to personal fulfillment.

“We’re not talking about an employee factory here,” Pederson said. “What we’re talking about is making sure that kids, students, across the gamut, where all students are lifelong learners, can have access to programs that fit with their personal values, along with their skill sets.”

The data also could also help inform training and certification programs outside of four-year institutions.

A workforce pathway system would help address a critical challenge for the workforce: Birth rates are lower than ever, and baby boomers, whose generation is twice as big as others, are leaving the workforce.

“We really have more jobs than people — significantly more jobs than people,” Pederson said. “And so we’re reaching reaching a point where we need to make sure that everyone has access to the workforce in any way, shape or form they can contribute.”

This article was reprinted with permission from the Kansas Reflector. The Kansas Reflector is a non-profit online news organization serving Kansas. For more information on the organization, go to its website at

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