Commentary: Getting students from classroom to workforce

With some 700,000 job openings ahead, students need a solid background in STEM education.

By Barbara Hulit and Gary Cohn

For The Herald

Sharpen the pencils, break out the Bunsen burners, and practice those critical thinking skills. School is back in session. With students having said goodbye to summer and already in classrooms, we want them to know their learning can connect them to many great opportunities that await in Washington state.

There will be more than 700,000 job openings in our state over a five-year period. Job growth here is expected to be triple the national average. Many of those openings will be related to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), and the list of job openings is broad, from positions as an engineer or data scientist at Fortive to assemblers and engineers at Boeing, pilots and aircraft mechanics at Alaska Airlines, nurses and technicians at health care facilities across our state, and many more. As leaders in business and education, we believe it is essential that the young people growing up in our communities are prepared to compete for the jobs created right here in Washington.

That means all students should have access to a high-quality education that prepares them to graduate high school ready for whichever career pathways they choose. To ensure this happens, Washington’s learning standards lay out what students should know and be able to do at each grade level. The High School and Beyond Plan helps students explore their interests, connect their learning to potential careers, and plan a meaningful path to complete the 24 credits required for high school graduation. We believe each of our students must also have opportunities to experience hands-on, minds-on science education.

Washington adopted the Next Generation Science Standards, which our state calls the Washington State Science Learning Standards, in 2013. These standards are based on extensive research about how students can best learn science. They are designed to make science education accessible and relevant to all students, engaging them in technology and engineering practices that help them understand the world and prepare for any number future careers.

With the standards in place, students in Everett schools, for example, are very engaged in science. They are exploring and investigating concepts such as gravity, light and the water cycle through practices that scientists and engineers use. The standards provide a high bar for the skills, knowledge and experiences students should master, while allowing local flexibility to design lessons that are relevant to students in our community.

For example, in partnership with Boeing, Everett is implementing the Core Plus program, providing students with firsthand experience with regional, high-demand career opportunities. When students understand how scientists and engineers do their work and have opportunities to carry out investigations and design solutions, they become more engaged in their learning and increase their understanding.

By believing that all students can learn science and setting rigorous standards, our educators are aiming to close opportunity gaps for systemically underserved students — including students of color, students with disabilities, students from families with low-incomes, and girls — who have historically been underrepresented in science and engineering education and careers. Students also bring diverse experiences and perspectives to science lessons, which improves learning for everyone.

A solid foundation in science — starting in elementary school — is also essential in developing our region’s future workforce. Washington is home to industry-leading, innovation-driven companies representing a diverse industrial mix. These employers need employees with a variety of skills, experiences and perspectives. At Fortive, for example, employees’ critical thinking and problem-solving skills are fundamental to development of cutting-edge technologies in advanced measurement and monitoring, as well as industrial technologies for manufacturing and transportation sectors worldwide.

We strongly believe in the value of science education and the problem-solving skills it teaches. With students back at school, we encourage you to help them unpack the building blocks of scientific thinking, promote experimentation and exploration across STEM subjects, and plan a path with the skills and knowledge developed through science and math. Learn more at www.readywa.org.

Barbara Hulit is a senior vice president at Fortive Corp., a Everett-based industrial technologies company. Gary Cohn is the superintendent of Everett Public Schools.

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