Where we’ll get our workers

We need a word that expresses both concern for a problem but also recognizes the opportunities that the problem presents.

Opporconcernity? Brightsiding?

While we work on that, consider the news coming out earlier this week about the graying of the state and local manufacturing workforce, as reported by Jim Davis, editor of The Herald Business Journal.

Cynthia Forland, director of the state’s Employment Security Department, addressed the issue before Economic Alliance Snohomish County’s annual meeting earlier this week in Lynnwood:

Across the state 22 percent of the workforce is 55 or older and nearing retirement, compared to about 11 percent in 2000. And the problem is even greater among aerospace manufacturers in the state and in Snohomish County.

“We’ve got over 30 percent of the aerospace workforce that is 55 and older,” Forland said.

It used to be enough to foster an environment that creates jobs. But businesses and economic groups, particularly for manufacturing areas such as Snohomish County, now see a need to help develop the workforce to fill those jobs, said Patrick Pierce, Economic Alliance’s president and chief executive at the meeting.

Also at the meeting, Dale Peinecke, the state’s Employment Security commissioner, urged employers to work with high schools, colleges and state agencies to prepare a workforce that is ready to step in at those jobs as experienced workers retire.

Most of the pieces already are in place.

  • Public schools are working to place a greater educational emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and Sno-Isle Tech, a cooperative venture among 14 regional school districts, offers a number of vocational programs, including aerospace and manufacturing.
  • Everett Community College’s Advanced Manufacturing Training and Education Center, which opened in 2014, is providing training and education in engineering, precision machining, electronics, composites and more — skills that are needed by Boeing and other aerospace manufacturers in the county and state.

But a stronger connection from high school to community college to workplace is needed.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Washington, has reintroduced legislation first proposed last year that would strengthen the pathway to jobs in STEM fields. The Youth Access to American Jobs Act would award grants across the county to 10 partnerships of local educational agencies, community colleges and state apprenticeships programs. It would also create a pilot program, a pathway for students beginning in their junior year, of two years in high school, two years at a community or technical college, then two years of apprenticeship with an employer.

A second piece of legislation introduced by Larsen, the Women and Minorities in STEM Booster Act, would establish a competitive grant program for colleges, universities and nonprofits to recruit more women and minorities into STEM fields.

The advantage of apprenticeships to aerospace and other manufacturers in the county is clear. For every dollar that a business invests in an apprenticeship, those businesses see $1.47 in increased productivity, reduced waste and greater innovation, according to Jeffrey Zients, director of the National Economic Council.

It provides those businesses a pipeline to a trained and prepared workforce.

And it provides wages, averaging $50,000 a year to start, that can support families and help build communities.

Considering the vocational programs and the manufacturing base in Snohomish County, it’s not a stretch to imagine that a such partnership in Snohomish County would be a competitive candidate for these grants and the programs they would support.

On second thought, we do have a word that fits this situation: problem-solving.

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