A Pathway To Great Careers In Washington, Via Public And Private Technical Colleges

A Pathway To Great Careers In Washington, Via Public And Private Technical Colleges
Computer game design and automotive diagnostics are just two of the many career-focused programs at Lake Washington Institute of Technology. There are 34 community and technical colleges (CTCs) in Washington, and private institutions which also offer post-secondary certificate and two-year degree programs. Photo: seamedu.com

Now is a demanding time for new entrants to the Washington workforce. Over the next eight years, more working adults will need bachelor’s and even graduate degrees to meet the demands of employers. By 2023, more than three-quarters of projected jobs in Washington will require some education beyond high school. Yet well over half a million Washingtonians who have completed some college lacks a degree.

The technology sector here is adding roughly 3,500 new jobs each year that require a computer science degree, yet the state only graduates 500 students a year with aligned degrees, according to The Washington Technology Industry Association.

“You can get a B.A. in computer science and be in a great position, but there are lots of great jobs in this state managing servers or cloud systems, that require one or two years of certification and pay in the range of $75,000 a year,” said Dan Sytman, Senior Communications Manager and Public Policy for Microsoft.

Average wages in the Seattle-Tacoma region for jobs in professional, scientific, and technical services are $89,391, compared to $57,370 for all jobs, according to the 2015 Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services Talent Pipeline report.

‘Right Out Of The Chute…A Good Wage’

“Right out of the chute from a community or technical college (CTC), you’re earning a good wage. It’s true, workers can earn a similar salary in construction, but in that field you’re one injury away from not being able to work,” Sytman added.

Almost 60 percent of students in Washington’s public higher education system are enrolled in CTCs. Statewide, 48,799 credentials were earned through CTCs in academic year 2014-15, but enrollment is down about one percent  this year.

David Thomases and Melyssa Langbecker are just two of the nearly 386,000 students served by Washington’s 34 community and technical colleges.

Thomases was one of eleven students who graduated from the Digital Gaming Program at Lake Washington Institute of Technology (LWTech) in March.

A computer science class in high school sparked his interest in video game design. That led him to LWTech’s Game Design Program. Thomases now works for the startup company, Emortal Sports Inc.  

The virtual reality and eSports company employs 35 workers who create and build mobile and computer games, and operates remotely.

Thomases is a video game designer specializing in 3D modeling, and level design. In that process he conceptualizes, sketches and builds in additional challenges for players as they advance through the game.

David Ortiz created Emortal, and said it was through a portfolio review at LWTech that he met Thomases.

CTC Grads Hit The Ground Running

“I was really impressed with him,” Ortiz said. He added the program does a great job of equipping students with practical understanding so “there’s less catch-up time” and “they can hit the ground running.”

Thomases said it was important that the program at LWTech emphasized courses needed for a career and not the filler courses at some four-year universities.

“It really makes a big difference being able to tailor your classes so you can target your job.” He added, “They don’t just teach you for the degree, they teach you for the workforce.”

Ortiz said Thomases was the first grad he hired from a technical college but said he won’t be the last.

“I’ll keep going back there (to LWTech),” Ortiz said. “We will definitely be there looking for more talent in the future.”

Now…On Google Play….

With his training at LWTech, Thomases went on to create his first video game, Laser Sweeps, which is available on Google Play for Android.

Video game design is one of many career pathways for CTC students. Automotive technology is another.

Melyssa Langbecker graduated from the automotive program at LWTech in 2014. She now works at Audi of Bellevue as a technician, specializing in Audi electrical, automation and safety systems.

She replaces and makes repairs to wiring harnesses, and diagnoses module electrical failures and malfunctions. To do that, she needs to know how to use the software on Audi diagnostic tools, how to read wiring and network diagrams, and how to use oscilloscopes and voltmeters.

Her goal is to be a master technician. That means she’s certified in every subject and has been working for more than five years on the brand.

Langbecker did not want to spend time and money at a standard four-year university after graduating high school, because she was unclear on her future plans.

Langbecker said LWTech was “a place that could get me to a job, to start my career right away.”

Washington state lawmakers are trying to ensure more students like Thomases and Langbecker can earn the degrees they need to develop marketable skills.

A Focus On Skills For 24- To 44-Year-Olds

The state legislature has been closely involved in CTCs and workforce development. Lawmakers in 2014 approved HB2626, based on a ten-year plan developed by the state CTC board. The legislation sets goals that by 2023 all Washington adults ages 24-44 earn high school credentials, and at least 70 percent gain postsecondary certificates or degrees.

Nancy Dick, the Director of Workforce Education for Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges said, “We have 700,000 under-skilled adults in this state that have some college but no degree,” she added. “We want to help them be competitive.”

Career Opportunities Abound

According to The Workforce Development Council of Seattle-King County, fields in which job opportunities will grow most markedly from 2018-2023 include machinery manufacturing; software publishing; and professional, scientific, and technical services.

The pathway to these kinds of career opportunities is clear to Scott McKinley, dean of Northeastern University, Seattle.

“Sitting in a classroom with 300 people taking multiple choice tests is not going to result in developing breadth, and may or may not result in developing depth,” he said.

One emerging area of emphasis for hands-on career training is computer science, but on the whole, Washington public high schools don’t really walk the talk.

The Washington Business Alliance’s Plan Washington reported that as of 2014, only 51 of the state’s 709 public high schools were teaching Advanced Placement (AP) computer science courses.

Ramping Up Computer Science Education

In 2015, Governor Jay Inslee signed into law HB 1813, a bipartisan measure that establishes standards for learning and then teaching computer science in K-12 schools.  

At the end of last year’s biennial budget session, Code.org reported that the state had budgeted $8.9 million for computer science. That included “a $2 million grant program to be matched by private funding that’ll fund existing high school teachers in new computer science training.” Also included in the $8.9 million was $124,000 for expanding computer science programs in K-12 schools over two years, and $750,000 to Bellevue College to offer Bachelor of Science degrees in computer science.

Two-thirds of the $8.9 million was for expanding the University of Washington’s computer science department, according to Code.org

Voters: More STEM, Please

A 2015 Washington STEM poll conducted via telephone by Strategies 360 found more than half of voters said expectations of students in math and science are too low, and at least 71 percent support funding for STEM improvements.

A 2013 Washington Roundtable Report addressing the growing job skills gap, states, “As the state economy becomes more technologically driven, it is essential to ensure an adequate pipeline of students moves seamlessly from K-12 into STEM programs throughout the higher education sector.”

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