North Central Washington education leaders advocate for postsecondary credentials; skills gap facing the oil industry

A group of education leaders in North Central Washington have an significant op-ed in the Wenatchee World addressing the importance of postsecondary education attainment. Signed by Dr. Jim Richardson, President, Wenatchee Valley College; Steve Wright, General Manager, Chelan PUD; Dr. Michelle Price, Superintendent, North Central Educational Service District; Dr. Sue Kane, Director, Apple STEM Network, and Dr. Gene Sharratt, Executive Director, OSPI/AESD Network and College Promise Coalition, the commentary echoes themes we’ve sounded here often.

In coming years, about two-thirds of the jobs in our region will by filled with workers who have a credential beyond a high school diploma.

However, according to a new report from Washington STEM and the Apple STEMNetwork, only about 37 percent of North Central region students who graduated high school in 2015 will get such a credential by the time they are 26.

Critically,

Today, a postsecondary credential is greatest driver of economic mobility and access to family-wage jobs.

They mention programs available to expand opportunity for students in NCW, as well as across the state, including the College Promise Coalition and Career Connect Washington. 

We’ve discussed the skills gap in manufacturing, citing Core Plus Aerospace as an innovative high school program. And we’d refer you to this Washington Research Council report on workforce training and education programs and initiatives designed to close the gap.

Mark P. Mills, with the Manhattan Institute, has a good, short piece at E21 describing the unique skills gap challenge facing the oil industry. He discusses how automation fits into the mix, noting that in the end rising productivity results in job creation.

The skills shortage is precisely what will force a more rapid adoption of labor-saving digital technologies, especially in oil and gas. In large part it’s desperation, not an infatuation with tech or cost savings, that drives employers to deploy technologies that amplify the capabilities of the employees they have and can find. It is a common misconception to think that automation is always cheaper than using labor. Robot hype aside, the level of digitalization in the industrial sector is still very low, a fact documented by PricewaterhouseCoopers for example. Of course as technology improves, it eventually crosses the threshold where it becomes cheaper than labor. But sometimes the technology is pursued despite higher costs because there is simply not enough labor available.   

And the oil and gas business, with its rising labor challenges, is particularly ripe for change because—as Morgan Stanley and the International Energy Agency (IEA) have observed—it is the least automated industrial sector. As industrial-grade automation matures in both quality and safety, many oil and gas companies have already started to deploy or are planning to adopt some of these new technologies. As these companies increasingly turn to automation, we can expect productivity to rise—which will ultimately create more jobs.

The opportunities abound, as the NCW writers point out. It’s important that students gain the skills and credentials required to make the most of them.