Career readiness bill aims to fill skill gaps

Employer helps intern with equipment
HB 1600 would create a pilot program to expand access to work-integrated learning and apprenticeship opportunities for Washington youth. Photo: U.S. Navy

Academic representatives and employers alike are praising a proposal they say would help prepare more of Washington’s youth for the workforce and fill skilled worker gaps.

The goal of HB 1660 is to increase career and college readiness for public school students. The bill’s prime sponsor is State Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos (D-37), and its cosponsors include State Reps. Eric Pettigrew (D-37), Paul Harris (R-17) and Jesse Young (R-26).

“I think there is a widespread understanding that students need from an early age to be exposed to the workplace and what career opportunities are out there,” Nancy Dick, Director of Workforce Education at the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC), told Lens.

She added that the bill would allow for an increased focus on youth apprenticeships, internships, mentors and career planning resources.

“A lot of the national conversation and the conversation in our state revolves around the fact that young people are far less exposed to the workplace than in years past,” said Dick. “I hear a lot of complaints from employers that students come out without the necessary ‘employability’ skills that they need to be successful.”

Dick said the bill would also benefit employers because “engaging employers with our CTC system is a critical first step” to include them on discussions about how different programs help prepare students for industry needs.

HB 1660 would create a pilot program to give public students the opportunity to experience work-based academic programs, which include apprenticeships and internships. The program would partner with public- and private-sector employers and create a framework for establishing effective work-integrated learning programs across the state.

The program would be required to offer external mentors for each participating student, teach students in a work-integrated and career-focused manner and reflect local business and labor markets.

The measure also requires the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to work with the newly created Work-Integrated Learning Advisory Committee to develop programs at a handful of high schools across the state to serve as examples for other schools looking to implement work-integrated learning.

On February 6, the House Appropriations Committee held a public hearing on the bill.

Rebecca Wallace, Executive Director of career and technical education at OSPI, told lawmakers:

“As you all know, career and technical education is hands-on, it is contextual in nature and it develops the knowledge, skills and abilities in students, so they can have high-quality experiences while they are in school and make a connection to their…post-secondary success and eventual career.

“We are committed in our office to return pride and a sense of value to the world of work and this bill will support that,” she said.

Lawmakers approved the measure and sent it to Rules. On February 8, the bill was scheduled for second reading.

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