There will be an estimated 740,000 job openings in Washington state over the next five years and analysts are projecting a lack of qualified workers to fill the slots according to a report by the Washington Roundtable. One Seattle-based college is looking to prepare for that scenario by partnering with Oregon and British Columbia institutions to help address the anticipated skills gap.
The Washington Roundtable report states that most of the jobs coming available in the next five years will be filled by Washingtonians with post-secondary credentials. For careers in engineering, the paper recommends that students obtain college-and career-ready high school diplomas followed by postsecondary education.
To help address the projected need, Lake Washington Institute of Technology (LWTech) has entered into the Cascadia Corridor Collaboration with the Oregon Institute of Technology (Oregon Tech) and the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT). Staff from the three institutions believe their joint efforts can help align workforce needs in high-demand fields and fill skill gaps.
The partnership would allow those “polytechnic” institutes to better prepare students to enter high-need Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields by allowing credit transfers and conducting research to better connect students with industry needs. And for graduates, the field is a viable one to make a decent wage. In Washington, mechanical engineers make an average of $93,000 annually.
Microsoft President Brad Smith announced the partnership at the Cascadia Corridor Innovation Conference event in September.
“As our region continues to establish itself as one of the world’s most important hubs for innovation, its enormous appetite for high skilled talent will only grow. Partnerships between polytechnics like these can create home-grown talent to meet the rising workforce needs along the Cascadia Corridor.”
Currently, LWTech offers two Engineering Transfer programs: Computer and Electrical Pre-Engineering, and Mechanical, Civil, Aeronautical, Industrial, Materials Science Pre-Engineering. These programs are unique for two-year institutions in Seattle in that they offer courses in the evenings and in hybrid format.
According to the LWTech website, hands-on teaching with new equipment and systems puts LWTech degrees “a cut above other two-year colleges.”
Dr. Amy Morrison Goings, president of LWTech, said polytechnic institutions will play a vital role in culturing economic development while matching students with industries.
“We are aligned with workforce needs in a way that ensures we’re focusing on the most in-demand technical fields across all degree levels. An integral part of this shared mission includes closing opportunity gaps for underrepresented students, increasing international mobility, and assisting industry in the diversification of its workforce.”
Kathy Kinloch, President of BCIT, said: “We see it as critical that post-secondary institutions and industry, within and across our borders, work together to help fill the huge demand for skilled workers and innovative approaches and solutions to support the economy, our environment, and communities.”
She added: “Educating nearly 50,000 students every year in areas such as applied and natural sciences, business, computing, engineering, and health sciences, BCIT is proud to join LWTech and Oregon Tech to become part of the growing number of partnerships that are making the Cascadia Corridor a real and viable opportunity for this region.”
Dr. Nagi Naganathan, president of Oregon Tech said, “The Pacific Northwest is fortunate to have three technology-focused institutes that share similar student-oriented, industry-aligned, applied learning missions. Our complementary programs and polytechnic pathways support industry and close regional, national and international skills gaps.”
The collaboration will include degree program articulations and credit transfers across the three campuses. Also available to the three schools is industry-directed research, joint projects and skills competitions.
Naganathan said: “As polytechnics, our institutions by nature operate under entrepreneurial philosophies that are part of the culture of the Cascadia Corridor. This is a natural fit that will yield a significant return on investment for our region.”