Cradle to career: Washington companies push for more learning

Glenn Farley reports

SEATTLE – In a soon to be released study, the Washington Roundtable says the state will have 740,000 job openings over the next five years, and not enough qualified workers to fill career oriented jobs.

The Roundtable, made up of some 50 businesses, commissioned The Boston Consulting Group to study the issue. It found that currently only 31 percent of high school students go on to earn a postsecondary credential by age 26. By 2030, that number needs to be closer to 70 percent, says the study.

So what is a credential?  Yes, it could be a 4- year bachelor's degree, but it can also be a journeymen's certification in a skilled trade, a plumber's license from the state, or a myriad of other levels of proof that an individual looking for a job has the additional skills that companies are looking for.

"We're basically 25,000 short of credentialed candidates in the state every year," says Roundtable president Steve Mullen. "And if those jobs are filled. They're filled from out of state." 

Mullen says in our booming economy, he is frustrated that companies are too often having to reach outside of Washington. Over the long term that is expected to contribute to a growing demographic of under-skilled workers with socioeconomic consequences.

"There's going to be opportunity for those who get a credential," says Charlie Davis with Boston Consulting. 

One of the keys is reaching what they call "low-resource kids," who don't have the family finances or the exposure to higher paying job categories of all types.

The Roundtable forecast says over the next five years alone, Washington companies will need to hire 427,736 workers to take over for retiring baby boomers and other individuals leaving the workforce.  But more than 312,000 workers will be for new jobs not yet created. Many are related to the tech sector, such as cybersecurity professionals.

"This is about every kid in the state having an aspiration to do well in the K-12 system and keep learning," said Dean Allen, CEO of McKinstry, a growing company that designs, builds, installs and maintains systems for buildings, including heating and air conditioning, plumbing and fire suppression.  

Seattle-based McKinstry has grown into a company employing 2,000 workers, with 1,500 workers in Seattle. Allen is hoping the company will double in employment to 4,000 over the next five to 10 years.

Those credentials allow people to move into jobs ranging from well-paid skilled union workers to engineers and designers. 

"We have as many plumbers and pipefitters, as we have engineers. And we have sheet metal workers and electricians and so on," said Allen. "So for us, it's about thinking about secondary and postsecondary attainment kinds of skills."

He says many employees find opportunities to move up in the company on a variety of career paths.  But getting started requires some sort of post high school attainment.

"We really don't have positions that say, a high school degree, is sufficient," said Allen.  

The Roundtable study reaches deeper into the concerns over education that comes before graduation from high school. Too many kids don't get a diploma.

Boston Consulting cites numbers from the Education Research Data Center under the Office of the Superintend of Public Instruction that show out of nearly 81,000 students entering the 9th grade, nearly ¼ or 20,000 drop out in stages before graduation. Another 14,000 never enroll in any kind of postsecondary program with six years of graduation, and more than 21,000 fail to earn a postsecondary degree within seven years of graduation.

"…employers report struggling to find graduates with vocational experience and demonstrated readiness for the workforce, including basic work skills like time management, active listening, teamwork, critical thinking, math, and writing competency," said the  authors.

The study breaks jobs down into three basic categories: 

Career jobs with 73 percent of workers having a credential with salary ranges from $60,000 to $100,000 or more.

Pathway Jobs where 34 percent have a credential with salaries ranging from $30,000 to $45,000 dollars – jobs such as carpenter, construction laborer, teacher assistants, retail sales and healthcare. Jobs with potential for upward mobility.

Entry-Level jobs where 80 percent of the work force has no credential and is paying between $20,000 and $30,000. Many positions in food service, farm work and custodial with a more limited upside.

"The fundamental purpose of this study is to make clear to young people that there are great opportunities here and we do need to change the culture," said the Roundtable's Mullen.  

The concern is that not enough kids are exposed to the opportunities early enough.  Example: if your father, mother or other relative is not an engineer, you may never consider this well-paid field. The Highline school district near Sea-Tac Airport is receiving grant money from Boeing to grow a pilot program that exposes kids, many from immigrant families, to concepts in engineering as young as the fifth grade.

"Preparing less than a third of our kids for the best jobs of the future is not good enough," said the report, and that reaching the goal "will take a concerted effort on the part of the private, public and non-profit sectors. It will require a system-wide approach focused on enhancing school readiness, improving college and career readiness, increasing participation in postsecondary certification and degree programs, and building awareness of career pathways." 

Copyright 2016 KING


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