Washington Research Council releases report on education and workforce development to close skills gap in manufacturing

A new report from the Washington Research Council examines education and workforce development strategies for closing the skills gap facing manufacturers in our state.

As a state with a vibrant manufacturing sector, including leaders in aerospace, agriculture, maritime, and other technology-driven production, Washington has made significant investment in addressing the demand for skilled workers. Industry executives are working with state and local officials and educators to design programs to increase the postsecondary education attainment rate. An ambitious, but reasonable goal has been set to increase the number of Washington students attaining a postsecondary credential by age 26 from the current 31 percent of Washington students to 70 percent by 2030.

Much of the emphasis in this paper addresses strategies to meet near-term demand for production workers, positions which often do not require a four-year degree. There are many paths to career employment in manufacturing: Apprenticeships, certification in skilled trades, two-year and four-year degrees all play a critical role in preparingworkers for the opportunities a vibrant economy offers. As individuals’ careers evolve,employees will often experience demands for additional training and education, from onsite workplace programs to post-graduate degrees. And some with four-year degrees may choose to supplement their education through apprenticeship or trade programs.

As the WRC writes, the job opportunities in manufacturing in Washington abound now and are growing. 

In 2016, 286,272 workers were employed in manufacturing in Washington, an industry with above average wages. Average annual wages for all industries statewide are $59,090; manufacturing jobs pay an average of $74,632 (26.3 percent higher).

Obtaining the skills required for manufacturing careers involve an inclusive, all-of-the- above approach. It begins with opening up the pathways to postsecondary trainingand education, including boosting the state’s high school graduation rate. Washingtonis making encouraging progress, through the Career Connect Washington Task Force, Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board, career-focused programs at the community and technical colleges, apprenticeships, and more. Closing the skills gap requires maintaining both a sense of urgency and a close partnership with industry to guarantee that training and education programs align with demand.

Earlier this week we wrote about a new report from the Washington Roundtable and Partnership for Learning. Their research demonstrated that, while Washington is making progress in boosting the postsecondary credential rate, swifter progress is needed.

  • Among Washington high school students, the credential attainment rate by age 26 will go from 31% for the high school class of 2006 to an estimated 40% for the high school class of 2015.
  • To reach the 70% credential attainment goal by the high school class of 2030, Washington must more than double the average annual growth rate in credential attainment – going from 0.9% per year to 2%.

There are many paths to obtaining the necessary credentials. As the WRC writes,

The key is making sure that no path is prematurely foreclosed, no opportunity for advancement precluded because the necessary training and education is not available.

For Washington students, workers, and employers, closing the skills gap is critical. We are encouraged by the progress being made and the attention being given this urgent priority.