Inslee discusses how to help more students find pathways to well-paying, high-demand careers
Darrell Wilson said he took an unorthodox approach to getting his education.
After earning his associate degree from Pierce College, he spent the next three-plus years earning his own tuition money so that he wouldn’t have to take out student loans. Then, he earned a certificate and took two internships (one with the Pierce County Health Department, the other with the City of Puyallup) around his career choice: Geographic Information System Mapping Technology. He did all of this before even starting his undergraduate program at the University of Washington.
“I wanted to build my resume from the ground up because some people struggle to get a job in their field after they graduate because they don’t have real-world experience,” Wilson said. “Doing those internships beforehand helped me keep ahead of the competition. It’s a competitive world and I wanted to be ahead of everything.”
Soon, he’ll graduate from the University of Washington with a GIS degree. And he’ll enter the professional workforce already having a strong network in his field because of his hands-on internship and certificate work.
Wilson shared his story with with Gov. Jay Inslee, state leaders and Washingtonians on Tuesday as they discussed how the state is helping more students find a pathway to a good-paying job or career. The meeting focused on college, STEM programs and degrees, and career-connected learning programs such as apprenticeships.
A highly-skilled workforce is one reason cited by many employers for locating in Washington state and Inslee said these kinds of efforts ensure Washington remains a top choice for businesses. State leaders project there will be 740,000 job openings by 2021, many of which require a post-secondary credential whether that is a degree, a certificate or a credential.
Inslee said the state has made significant progress over several years to increase the number of Washingtonians who are positioned to find high-demand, high-wage jobs.
The 2019 legislative session brought forth the Workforce Education Investment Act. The act includes two pieces of governor-priority legislation that will impact thousands of Washington students.
One piece of legislation focuses on college affordability. It will provide meaningful financial aid for 110,000 students each year to take apprenticeships and attend two- and four-year public colleges and universities.
“We’re hoping the new financial aid program will help ease the financial burden for many students,” Inslee said. “And it’s people like Darrell, who stopped his education for years to earn tuition money, who could benefit from this program.”
The other piece of legislation is a focus on career-connected learning. It gives students more chances to get real-life work experience during their schooling.
“The passage of that act was one of the most important achievements of the recent session,” Inslee said. “We have one of the most progressive financial aid systems in the country now. And it reflects a key part about why we’re ranked as the number one state to live and work.”
Career Connect Washington is designed to meet the governor’s goal of connecting 100,000 students to career-connected opportunities and our other efforts to create multiple pathways to good-paying careers. This comes from a Washington STEM action plan of 70 percent of students achieving a postsecondary credential.
The legislature recently secured $25 million in operating and more than $11 million in capital and transportation funding for Career Connect Washington and supported initiatives. Career Connect Washington hosts a variety of work-based programs that include classroom learning and career-specific instruction. This helps students get early exposure to careers and the different pathways one career holds.
During the Inslee administration, policy makers have worked on the following items that increase living-wage job opportunities:
- Paid family and medical leave
- Non-compete legislation that protects workers
- Free tuition for low-income students through Washington College Grant
- A fair minimum wage
- Guaranteed sick leave
- Updating overtime rules
- Long-term care program
- Fair chance for employment with ‘ban the box’ measures
- Limited college tuition increases
- Governors STEM Innovation Alliance
- Career-connected learning with real-world work experience through Career Connect Washington
- Expanded pathway options for high school graduation
- Job quality tax incentives on clean energy projects
- Future of Work Taskforce that prepares Washington’s economy for technological change
- Guaranteed Education Tuition program that gives people the ability to buy tuition early
- College savings plans (called “Dream Ahead”) to save for education
- Washington State Opportunity Scholarship expansion to professional technical programs and apprenticeships
- Expanded high demand STEM enrollments
- State financial aid eligibility for “Dreamers”
- Student loan refinancing
- Working connections child care for low-income students in professional technical programs
The number of students who earned STEM degrees has also increased during the past few years. Inslee said it’s important to emphasize STEM opportunities because a large amount of upcoming high-wage jobs require STEM knowledge and skills. Yet more qualified applicants apply to the public four-year college and universities than the institutions have room for in these programs.
Whether it’s a STEM degree, an ironworker apprenticeship or an early childhood education certificate, there’s a payoff for students who seek out a variety of educational opportunities after high school: Education pays. That’s according to Cody Eccles, associate director at the Council of Presidents, who also spoke at Tuesday’s meeting. Earnings have increased for all students who finish college. And students who complete a professional-technical program earn the highest, according to the Washington State Board Community and Technical Colleges.
Currently, the job areas with the highest workforce needs are education, computer science and mathematics, business and finance, and health care.
As part of Inslee’s Results Washington initiative, state agencies and partners collaborate on key challenges facing the state.