The Future of Work Task Force convened this week to discuss areas of focus in Washington’s educational system in need of change to better prepare the state’s youth for their careers. Representatives from academia, labor and the legislature agree that the state should better work with students to identify what skills they need for different career paths, as well as to promote opportunities outside of a traditional four-year college plan.
The task force was established this past legislative session under SB 6544 to collaborate with the Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board (WTECB). The body is tasked with analyzing drivers of change and trends within industries and the workforce, as well as making policy recommendations to help businesses, workers and communities succeed as they adapt to changes in the marketplace and job environment.
This week, the task force met for the second time since its creation at Highline College in Des Moines.
WTECB Executive Director Eleni Papadakis said the task force’s first meeting examined the broader issue of the future of work, however the group has yet to pull apart what the specific problems are within the education system.
“I think folks are very interested in the incumbent workforce, data and data sharing…industry partnerships…about figuring out what we mean by high-quality jobs, by the jobs we want to support through public policy,” said Papadakis.
She said that one successful strategy will involve having business and labor members work together with the public sector to identify solutions for a better future for the state’s youth.
Papadakis said one area in need of attention is the state’s focus on career guidance. Originally, counselors helped students look to the future and work options but has since transformed into helping young people find their way to four-year institutions and understanding those prerequisites.
She added that the state should instead provide better information to guidance counselors and teachers to better inform youth about how work is transforming and then focus on building students’ skills, so they are more equipped to enter the workforce.
Papadakis said that Washington’s academic faculty should instead help students manage their financial and career portfolios, as well as helping them understand their learning styles to best succeed in school and a future job. This same focus should be given in the K-12 system and higher education.
Joe Wilcox, Future of Work Policy and Research Manager at WTECB, said he agreed that counselors should take a more proactive stance when looking at potential jobs, skills sets and opportunities, and that the task force should take a more forward-looking approach when predicting what skills and needed.
Stam Sorscher, a labor representative for the task force, said that employers are looking for people with a certain amount of technical competence, problem solving skills, communication and critical thinking. He finds fault, however, with the over-emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) learning.
“When you think about it…what fraction of the workforce actually wants to do that? You are just jamming a square peg into a round hole, I don’t get that. There is a lot of value and lots of other jobs for different approaches to careers.”
State Rep. Vandana Slatter (D-48) said that although STEM shouldn’t be the only path offered, it holds a special place in Washington state where there is a significant portion of careers that need those skills.
She shared her experience of meeting a state robotics team in Mount Vernon where most of the members were not aware of the opportunities within STEM prior to joining the team or felt that engineering was boring – or didn’t apply to their future jobs. However, having the hands-on experience and encouragement to continue within the team changed their disposition.
“…there is a lot of focus on STEM and a lot of money that goes into STEM because we have a lot of workers and businesses in STEM in this state, and we don’t have a lot of kids that come out of high school that know how to get those jobs,” she said.
Other areas of concern identified by the task force include credential attainment, filling in-demand jobs such as those in construction and a greater and earlier emphasis on career and technical education (CTE) to inspire student achievement.