Editorial: Jobs outpacing those in state with needed training

There’s good news for students expecting to enter the job market during the next five years.

Between now and 2021, Washington can expect about 740,000 job openings, according to a new report by Washington Roundtable, a policy center whose board members include senior executives of major private sector employers in the state. About 428,000 will be jobs that come open because of retirements or workers leaving the state, but about 311,000 will be newly created positions.

That’s an improvement on the state’s historic growth rate in jobs, and three times the projected growth rate for the nation.

Of that nearly three-quarters of a million jobs, only 150,000 are expected to be entry level positions with a salary range between $20,000 and $30,000. Some 260,000 will be career jobs, offering salaries of $60,000 to $100,000 and more a year, while about 330,000 will be what the Roundtable refers to as pathway jobs, paying $30,000 to $45,000 a year and with a path toward a career-level position.

“The catch is,” said Roundtable President Steve Mullin, during a meeting with The Herald Editorial Board, “do those young people have the skills they’ll need” to land those career and pathway jobs?

Less than a third of them will. And those who don’t already are losing those jobs to out-of-state candidates who do have the training and education required.

Currently, only 31 percent of students are expected by age 26 to earn the post-secondary credentials they need for pathway and career positions, based on the Roundtable’s analysis of data from the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. That, of course, includes four-year college degrees, but it also includes classroom training, certification programs and apprenticeships lasting from a few months to two years.

Employers can always hire from out of state, but the preference, Mullin said, is to hire those who grow up here.

The goal for the Roundtable’s Washington Kids for Washington Jobs campaign is to increase the percentage of students with post-secondary credentials to 70 percent by 2030. That’s not an arbitrary number, but one that would meet the expected demand for prepared workers.

The pipeline that should be supplying those workers leaks from ninth grade up to adulthood. Of approximately 80,700 students in each class, only 25,500 obtain some level of post-secondary credential. About 20,100 drop out between ninth grade and the end of 12th grade. Another 14,000 who do graduate from high school don’t enroll in a post-secondary program, and 21,000 enroll but don’t complete post-secondary programs before age 26.

There’s work ahead for parents, students, educators, officials, lawmakers and employers to plug those leaks. The Roundtable is advocating a “cradle to career” approach that would:

Improve student readiness and the performance of the state’s K-12 public schools, with an emphasis on low-income and at-risk students and low-performing schools and students;

Get more students enrolled in post-secondary programs at community colleges, vocational schools and apprenticeships, particularly in high-demand fields; and

Better advise students of the careers that will be available to help them make decisions about what skills, training and education they need.

No one is discouraging students from going to college, said Brian Jeffries, the Roundtable’s Partnership for Learning Policy director. The intention is to encourage those who aren’t aware of the potential jobs available that don’t require four-year degrees. A six-month training program with Comcast or another company, Mullin said for example, can lead to one of those pathway jobs.

The campaign is reaching out to school districts and PTAs, Jeffries said, and is working with employers who already offer programs that get students thinking about job possibilities, such as Core Plus, which introduces manufacturing fundamentals to students who have then gone on to jobs with Boeing and others.

And, as the Legislature addresses public education funding, Mullin said, the Roundtable will be working with lawmakers to encourage goals and benchmarks that make the most of additional funding.

Reaching that 70 percent mark would produce 31,000 more trained, educated and credentialed graduates each year. Each of those graduates, the Roundtable estimates, will make an extra $960,000 in earnings over what they otherwise would have earned in their lifetimes.

But there are benefits for the state and our communities, with a 36 percent reduction in unemployment and 48 percent reduction in poverty over time and a savings to the state of $3.5 billion a year in spending on social programs.

The jobs will be there, and they will be filled. The only question is who will be ready to apply.

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