Minnesota is approaching the perfect storm in its workforce.

Our pool of workers is shrinking and is not expected to stabilize until 2025.

Second, 2010 Georgetown University study projects that, by 2018, 70 percent of Minnesota jobs will be held by individuals with some education beyond high school. Lastly, the fastest growing segments of our population are on the short end of the state's unacceptable achievement gap.

More than ever, we need all high school graduates to be ready to enter the work force or continue their education.

Quality education and quality of life go hand in hand. Students need the best instruction that schools can offer if they are to compete with their peers for jobs. And Minnesota businesses require a world-class work force to compete in today's global economy.

Developing the best talent for employers is among the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce's top priorities for the 2012 Legislature. It's at the foundation of ensuring a strong business environment, and, in doing so, maintaining and creating jobs for Minnesotans.

Many factors play a role in our kids' education. But one ingredient remains undisputed: Second to parents, teacher quality is the biggest predictor of a student's academic success.

We can debate class size. We can talk about the advantages and disadvantages of growing up in a rich or poor family. We can compare the academic performance of city kids with the achievement of those who hail from the suburbs or Greater Minnesota. Policy-makers can analyze all sorts of statistics and one red flag stands out: The quality of student outcomes will not exceed the quality of their teachers.

Minnesota has many fine teachers. Our goal is to ensure we have an effective teacher in every K-12 classroom. A steep challenge indeed, and one that we must meet.

Here's why. It's been well documented that Minnesota has the widest achievement gap in the country - persisting among racial groups as well as across socioeconomic levels. Less publicized, but equally distressing, is that Minnesota minorities fare worse on standardized testing than their peers in other states.

The Minnesota Chamber is advancing several initiatives aimed at ensuring every student is qualified for a good job. Among them:

  • Link teacher evaluations to students' academic progress, ending the practice of "last in, first out" when it comes to layoff decisions.

hese evaluations also should permit the expansion of performance-based teacher compensation, i.e. Q Comp, to reward teachers who demonstrate the greatest growth in student achievement. Measurements should consider individual, department and school results in a way that encourages the most successful teachers to share knowledge with fellow teachers.

  • Require teachers to pass a basic skills test prior to entering the classroom. Existing law gives teachers three one-year waivers to pass the basic skills test - allowing them to be in the classroom without passing the test.
  • Improve training and accountability for principals including assessing their leadership ability prior to hiring. Mandate principal evaluations by the superintendent, and use student achievement data to rate principal effectiveness.

These measures collectively aim to improve student outcomes. The reforms must be incorporated into an overall strategy of focusing on the continuum of education from preschool to K-12 to post-secondary. The Minnesota Chamber also supports quality rating systems to help parents choose quality prekindergarten programs for their children. We also are examining how to strengthen links among students, workforce programs and employer needs.

All Minnesotans share the challenge of developing the state's talent. Educating every child is important to families, and it is key to building the kind of economy that makes Minnesota a great place to live and work.

Mark Hibbs is a vice president at Barr Engineering Co., Minneapolis, and chair of the Minnesota Chamber's Education Policy and Workforce Development Committee.