Alarms Ringing On Higher Ed Attainment

Alarms Ringing On Higher Ed Attainment
According to a recent Washington Roundtable report, 740,000 new jobs will be created in Washington state in the next five years, far ahead of the national pace. Many will require postsecondary education, but currently less than a third of Washingtonians earn a higher ed credential within seven years of high school graduation. More emphasis on opportunities through community and technical colleges is part of the solution. Seen here: a student in Centralia College's Mechatronics program. Photo: Centralia College.

Hundreds of thousands of new jobs are coming to Washington in the next five years, and they will mostly require education beyond high school. State data presented last week by the Washington Roundtable to the Senate Higher Education Committee show that unless something changes, state graduates won’t be getting hired for many of these slots.

‘Pathways To Great Jobs’

The new report by the Roundtable is titled “Pathways To Great Jobs In Washington State.” It underscores a problem that lawmakers say is alarming: just 31 percent of students who began 9th grade at Washington public high schools in 2006 went on to earn a postsecondary credential by seven years after 12th grade graduation.

The Rountable report, done in collaboration with the Boston Consulting Group, also surveyed the state’s five-year jobs landscape. From now to 2021, the state expects job growth at a rate three times the national average. “The majority of job opportunities – particularly those that will support upward mobility and good quality of life – will be filled with workers who have postsecondary education or training,” the report stated.

The Roundtable projects that of the 740,000 Washington jobs that will need filling, roughly 150,000 will be entry-level, and 330,000 will be mid-level “pathway” jobs. They often require specific training or a postsecondary credential. Some 260,000 of the opportunities will be for higher-level “career” jobs, and almost three-quarters of those will require college certificates or degrees.

The Roundtable set a 2030 goal of more than doubling the state’s postsecondary degree or certificate attainment rate, to 70 percent.

Too Many Students Struggling

“We’ve seen great progress in Washington’s schools in recent years. Graduation rates are rising and more students are achieving at higher levels. However, clearly, significant numbers of students are struggling,” said Roundtable President Steve Mullin in a news release.

Continued Mullin, “We need a concentrated statewide plan to get our students ready, including strategies and targeted supports to help struggling students and turn around low-performing schools.”

Higher Ed Capacity Concerns

At the January 12 presentation of the Roundtable report to the committee, Ranking Member State Sen. Guy Palumbo (D-1) said employers “will hire every single kid that we graduate in high-demand fields,” but the University of Washington’s Bothell and Seattle campuses and other state public colleges and universities “are turning away kids in droves that are qualified,” because “they have nowhere to put them.”

Palumbo added, “It seems like low-hanging fruit” to advance capital construction projects at state postsecondary institutions, “and crank out 700 or 1,000 more per year computer scientists…those kids have jobs waiting for them right away. It’s $70,000 a year plus benefits plus stock, and would help address this issue.”

State Sen. David Frockt (D-46) at a recent town hall meeting in Kenmore City Hall said he’s committed to support for the University of Washington – Bothell, and Cascadia College, also in Bothell. He added that the biggest message to lawmakers from employers during recess was to “get the education house in order,” and align the school-to-work pipeline, so students “have the types of training and skills employers need.”

Lawmakers: Attainment Data ‘Shocking,’ ‘Disturbing’

Committee Vice Chair State Sen. Barbara Bailey (R-10) said at the meeting that the Roundtable findings on how few Washington high schoolers earn a postsecondary credential “is really pretty shocking, given all of the things we’ve been trying to do, and are doing…”

Committee Chair State Sen. Lynda Wilson (R-17) agreed. “That 31 percent is a disturbing figure, especially with all the money we are putting in to grants, and sending the kids off to college…we need to look at some of that, and maybe require some information for them when they get the grant, or in that process, to pick something that will actually get them the job when they get out.”

Seattle-based online retailing giant Amazon announced plans last week to create 100,000 new jobs nationally in 18 months. The new positions “are for people all across the country and with all types of experience, education and skill levels – from engineers and software developers to those seeking entry-level positions and on-the-job training,” according to an Amazon press release.

Technical, Community Colleges Stepping Up

Numerous colleges in Washington are already hip-deep in workforce development. Northeastern University, which includes a Seattle campus, was compelled by jobs data to add a post-graduate certificate program for data analysts, and courses in finance and biotech for students on a law degree track.

Lake Washington Institute of Technology (LWTech) is one of numerous Washington technical colleges where in-state employers look to hire from graduates. Among programs that are a draw: digital gaming, and advanced auto diagnostics.

Employers and community and technical colleges in Washington are also teaming up to train students for manufacturing jobs, including slots as tool and die makers, and in aerospace. Advanced manufacturing is getting special emphasis. High school programs such as Boeing’s “Core Plus” teach industry skills, and emphasize graduation requirements.

Hiring managers and college educators say strong core skills, such as verbal and written communications and math aptitude, remain essential. As automation continues to grow, many jobs will continue to change. The best defense for workers? Building higher-level capabilities in planning, analyzing, strategizing and managing.

The Trades: Another Avenue

The trades are another pathway to career success, boosted by apprenticeship programs for women and minorities, including one at South Seattle College. Senate Minority Caucus Leader John McCoy (D-38) in a video update late last week spotlighted opportunities for young Washingtonians in the trades.

“We’re gonna need carpenters, electricians, plumbers, metal workers…those fields pay very good money…”


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