Study: Washington succeeds in tech economy, despite lagging in K-12 and higher education

The Seattle-based Technology Alliance just released Benchmarking Washington’s Innovation Economy. The report compares Washington with 11 other states on key measures of research capacity, entrepreneurial climate and education. 

Seattle Times reporter Janet I. Tu summarizes key findings in her lead paragraph:

Washington state employs the highest percentage of STEM workers per capita yet ranks toward the bottom in terms of graduating students with bachelor’s degrees, much less bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields.

The industry here recruits from outside.

“We’ve relied on importing talent for a very long time” to meet the demand for tech workers,” said Susannah Malarkey, executive director of the Technology Alliance. “And it has masked how poorly we are doing as a state in providing opportunities for Washington students and citizens.”

Read both the study (it’s short with great graphics) and Tu’s article. This isn’t news so much as it is a confirmation of a trend. In our research report, we wrote extensively about the skills gap (too many jobs unfilled because potential employees didn’t have the requisite skills), the need for more STEM (science, technology, engineering math) education, and the importance of post-secondary education and training.

By 2020, estimates are that 70 percent of jobs in Washington will require some form of postsecondary education (compared to 65 percent nationally)…

 Washington’s four-year high school graduation rate in 2013 (for students who began ninth grade in 2009-10) was 76.0 percent…

Of students who graduated from public high school in 2009-10 and enrolled in community and technical college in 2010-11, 57 percent enrolled in at least one pre-college (developmental or remedial) course — most often in math.

And, 

With 80 percent of chronically unfilled jobs tied to a shortage of qualified candidates with STEM skills, the opportunity for Washington students is clear. For individual students to take advantage of this opportunity, the state must increase postsecondary capacity in computer science, engineering, and health care programs.

In 2013, the Washington Roundtable and the Boston Consulting Group published Great Jobs Within Our Reach. The report identified the opportunities that could be created by closing the skills gap:

If the state takes steps to fill the growing gap, it would mean 160,000 jobs across many sectors in Washington state by 2017, spread across the economy, and $720 million in new state revenue annually.

The Technology Alliance report confirms that, as a state, we are not capitalizing on those opportunities. Policy makers have a chance to reverse the trend and increased shared prosperity statewide. It’s simply a matter of making the right choices. See our roadmap to learn more.

Also today in the Seattle Times, Brier Dudley offers a look at the technology sector’s lessons for education