Preparing students for tech and “middle skill” jobs

The Brookings Institution offers new insight into the often-overlooked opportunities available in “middle skill” careers. (Blog post here; brief here.) There’s been much concern expressed regarding the shrinking middle class. What’s welcome about the Brookings report is the specificity of forward-looking policy prescriptions. 

Three sets of policies should help address these problems:

  1. Providing more resources to community (and lower-tier 4-year) colleges but also creating incentives and accountability by basing state subsidies on student completion rates and earnings of graduates;
  2. Expanding high-quality career and technical education plus work-based learning models like apprenticeship; and
  3. Assisting and incentivizing employers to create more good jobs. 

As we’ve noted, 70 percent of Washington jobs in 2020 will require postsecondary education and training. Many of them will be the middle skill jobs that expand economic opportunity and security for the majority of Washington households. Brookings has it right.

So, too, does former Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Scott Carson, who advocates for more STEM education, particularly for young women.

Targeted investment in education that produces positive outcomes must continue to be the state’s priority. It’s both likely and proper that lawmakers, then, will set aside funding for Initiative 1351 until voters approve a way to pay for it.

The Everett Herald today editorializes in favor of sending the measure back to the voters. The Senate approved a referral Monday; House Democrats see problems with that approach (though they agree full funding is not likely).  

An Elway Poll finds that voters still like the idea of smaller class sizes at every grade level, the 1351 mandate, even if higher taxes are required. But because the poll did not specify which taxes or how much money would be necessary, lawmakers are justified in believing voters would show buyer’s remorse should they have a second chance to consider the measure. 

Pollster H. Stuart Elway noted that the lead for I-1351 evaporated last year as opponents hammered on the cost.

“This smaller lead might be vulnerable once real dollars are attached,” he said.

More important than worrying about how to pay for I-1351 is the real priority: Aligning incentives, accountability and funding to assure that every Washington student has the opportunity for career and college success.