Closing the skills gap with education and training. Lessons from aerospace … and from Rhode Island

Washington’s vibrant economy continues to produce extraordinary employment opportunities. We’ve written about the 740,000 new jobs coming open in the next five years. And we’ve noted the importance of having the training and education required to take advantage of the emerging opportunities. Most of those 740,000 jobs will be filled by workers with a postsecondary credential or some college.

Geek Wire reports on concerns raised by aerospace leaders here. 

The state of the aerospace industry in Washington state is still great, but industry leaders say the educational system will have to be beefed up if it’s going to stay that way for the next generation.

That cautionary message emerged from today’s installment of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Congress’ Executive Speaker Series, focusing on the aerospace industry.

The concerns will be familiar to those who’ve read our 2017 foundation report update. We wrote,

Increasingly, the majority of jobs in Washington will be filled by workers with a postsecondary credential (such as a technical or industry certificate, apprenticeship, or degree). Today, just 31 percent of Washington high school students go on to attain such a credential by the age of 26. The mismatch between workforce readiness and job openings hampers our collective ability to take advantage of the potential economic growth that lies ahead.

Preparing more Washington kids for Washington jobs requires a cradle-to-career approach to raising student achievement. The Washington Roundtable has set an ambitious goal: By 2030, 70 percent of Washington high school students will go on to attain a postsecondary credential by age 26. Opportunity Washington supports such a vision…

Geek Wire writes,

… Joseph Sprague, senior vice president of external relations for Seattle-based Alaska Airlines, said he was concerned about how prepared the next generation will be to take the baton from veterans with decades of experience.

“Our K-12 system in this state is failing our kids right now,” Sprague said. High-school graduation rates are “abysmal,” and many of those graduates aren’t ready to take on aerospace jobs, he said.

“We need to get more qualified people in the employment pipeline,” Sprague said.

The industry has stepped up to address the challenge.

To address the issue, Boeing and other employers have been working with state education officials on a Core Plus curriculum that emphasizes the skills students will need for technical jobs.

Alaska Airlines presents an annual Aviation Day at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, in cooperation with Boeing and the Port of Seattle, to whet the interest of students who may “have no clue what aerospace or aviation jobs look like,” Sprague said.

And post-secondary schools such as Renton Technical College to Central Washington University offer programs to prepare the next generation for jobs ranging from piloting airplanes to building and fixing them. There may be room for still more educational programs to be set up, although Sprague acknowledged that “it’s not for the faint of heart to open a flight school.”

Other states face similar issues. Chief Executive magazine reports on how Rhode Island is “future proofing” its workforce.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently named Rhode Island the second-best state in America for innovation and entrepreneurship, and the new education programs the state is pioneering are intended to reinforce that ranking. In efforts to “upskill” the new generation, Rhode Island is finding innovative solutions to the challenges the country faces in preparing our children for the high-skills jobs of the future.

And, again, the elements of the strategy will not surprise Washingtonians.

With a particular focus on education, many pieces of Gov. Gina Raimondo’s legislation are paving the way for bold action to create a new economic toolbox for the state. The administration recognizes that creating a strong talent pipeline can serve as an attractive benefit to businesses looking to relocate or grow in the state, and so it has developed or adopted exciting initiatives to ensure that Rhode Island’s students are being prepared to enter high-demand STEAM fields.

Some of the new programs and incentives include a Center for Advanced Manufacturing at the state’s career and technical high schools, as well as a pledge to invest in the state’s Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) initiative. Additionally, Gov. Raimondo has personally overseen efforts to make Rhode Island not only the first state to provide computer science to every child in every public school, but also to become one of the first states to offer two years of free college at an in-state community college.

Our state offers tremendous opportunities. Yet, as the aerospace leaders and others have pointed out, we must do more to ensure that the great jobs of the future will be filled by the students in Washington schools now.