Legislature explores ways to align postsecondary education with job opportunities

We’ve written before about the 740,000 jobs opening up in our state in the next five years. The number comes from a comprehensive study published by the Washington Roundtable and Boston Consulting Group. The research also pointed out that most of those jobs will be filled by employees with a postsecondary credential. 

An important point made in the research: Many of the successful applicants for these jobs will not have a four-year degree; the key, though, is having the credentials, certification that the employee has the knowledge and training required for the position. Currently,

Only 31 percent of Washington high school students go on to attain a postsecondary credential by the age of 26. This is due to many factors, ranging from low high school graduation rates (particularly among historically underserved student groups) to insu icient preparation for college and a lack of student awareness about job opportunities and associated skill requirements.

The Roundtable has set a goal of more than doubling postsecondary attainment, boosting g it to 70 percent by 2030.

We were reminded again of the skills gap when we read Mike Richards’s story in The Lens.

Some state lawmakers have voiced concerns that K-12 and postsecondary institutions in Washington focus too heavily on four-year degree attainment. This is often at the cost of career and technical education (CTE) options.

Industry stakeholders argue the four-year college degree is not for everyone, and educators should zero in on skills needed for manufacturing jobs and other mid-skill positions that provide good wages, a solid career path, and boost the statewide rate of  postsecondary credential attainment.

Richards cites the Roundtable report we mention above and reports on several legislative efforts designed to align better education and career opportunities. 

HB 1404 would require the state’s Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board (WTECB) to conduct a study on current and future employment opportunities in the agriculture, natural resources and environment sectors. The intent is that the probe’s results would better illustrate to educators the feasibility of careers in those fields, and prompt them to expand or fine-tune course offerings…

Kathryn Kurtz, Executive Director at the Pacific Education Institute, said, “Currently, there is some misinformation about what’s available to students without a four-year degree in the agriculture, natural resources and environmental science fields…we feel like there is a real need to know what jobs are available,” and “what skills those kids need, so that we can communicate and work with teachers to prepare kids effectively for the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) careers that are available, especially out in our rural areas.”

…WTECB in its recent strategic plan aims to prepare employers and applicants to fill anticipated job needs and address skill gaps. Under HCR 4402, lawmakers would adopt a required quadrennial update of the board’s “Talent and Prosperity for All” (TAP) plan…

SCR 8401 would grant needed Senate approval to the updated board plan…

Amy Anderson is Government Affairs for Education, Workforce Development and Federal Issues at the Association of Washington Business, and co-chairs the TAP planning committee.

Anderson said the past few years were spent to “align all the state’s workforce partners and ensure that the workforce that is being developed is the workforce business needs to grow and support the economic prosperity of the state of Washington…the workforce system heard loud and clear from businesses that we could build better and stronger partnerships.”

All of these measures have bipartisan support. The discussion is important. In our foundation report, we make postsecondary training a major priority, emphasizing the need for training that expands career opportunities for Washington students.

ACHIEVE: Provide a high-caliber education and workforce development system geared to the demands of the 21st century.

  • Expand access to postsecondary education that boosts career opportunity and supports economic growth.

We are encouraged by bipartisan legislative efforts to ensure postsecondary education remains a central focus this session.