Job training proposal could boost employment

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Washington state lawmakers heard testimony on an education bill that aims to better equip students through hands-on learning and apprenticeships. Photo: Senior Airman David Bernal Del Agua

The House Education Committee heard testimony this week on a bill which would create a pilot project to better connect Washington state public school students with career and employment opportunities. Proponents said the project would allow businesses to employ more skilled workers, offer career opportunities for the state’s youth and set the example for schools across the state for how to promote integrated learning.

ESHB 1660, which would create the work-integrated learning demonstration pilot project for public school students, was introduced January 25 of last session and passed out of the House in a 94 to 4 vote. The legislation cleared the Senate unanimously in April of last year, however it stalled throughout the three special sessions.

The bill’s prime sponsor is State Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos (D-37), and its cosponsors include State Reps. Eric Pettigrew (D-37), Norm Johnson (R-14) and Liz Pike (R-18).

“Today as I think about what the opportunities might be for my 19 grandchildren and 19 great grandchildren, they don’t have those same opportunities to go into the workplace because we have a such a patchwork quilt of job opportunities,” Santos told colleagues about her proposal during the January 9 House Higher Education Committee hearing.

“I cannot think of any more powerful learning than the kind of learning that occurs when you take a real lesson and students get a chance to actually see the impact of their work on the workplace. It makes it very real for them,” she added.

According to the bill report, the legislation would create a pilot program that would give students the opportunity of work-based academic programs including internships and apprenticeships with public- and private-sector employers. It would also provide a framework for recreating successful work-integrated learning programs across the state.

The demonstration programs must: teach students in a work-integrated and career-focused manner; include an external mentor for each student involved; work alongside local employers and community members; and reflect local business and labor markets, among other requirements.

Under the bill, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) would work alongside the newly established Work-Integrated Learning Advisory Committee to develop an application process to select three or four high schools across the state to develop the programs. Those schools would then serve as models for other schools on how to implement a focus on work-integrated learning.

The committee would also advise the legislature on how to better create and communicate opportunities for students considering different career paths.

Santos said the bill attempts to expand integrated learning experiences across the state to “systematically ensure that every student in the state of Washington gets the opportunity to have an inside mentor and a work-integrated learning experience, and not leaving that to chance.”

Santos added it is her hope that the Superintendent of Public Instruction organizes the advisory committee with input from “the community employers, school districts and labor organizations so we can figure out the best way to…keep educators in charge of the academics, but also make full use of the rich resources that we have in every community.”

State Rep. Laurie Dolan (D-22) is Vice Chair of the committee. She told colleagues “the work environment is now responding in Southwest Washington to students learning and working in the business environment or small businesses in the area with a sense of confidence in young people that they were surprised to find.”

Eleni Papadakis, Executive Director of the State Workforce Board, told committee members that the bill was vital for the state’s youth and business community, and lawmakers should make sure its potential isn’t wasted.

“We have been working across our organizations, across business and labor organizations for many years now and built a network of champions who are ready…but if we don’t create the right policy infrastructure, we will never get this to scale, it will be a boutique program and it will be subject to the vicissitudes of grant funding and demonstration projects, and we can’t afford that any longer.”

Randy Spaulding, Executive Director of the State Board of Education, said: “The board very much supports work-integrated learning as a way for students to become career and college ready and sees this bill as an important step forward in how to effectively implement work-integrated, career-related learning opportunities and programs.”

The bill is scheduled for possible executive action on January 11.

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