As employers clamor for a workforce versed in science, technology, engineering and math, state leaders are gearing up to build an apprenticeship and career-connected learning system across Washington to help young people land jobs in STEM and other high-paying fields.
A job in STEM — and in technology in particular — was something Washingtonian Shawn Farrow wanted. Farrow was working as a crew lead at a moving company, but he dreamed of a career that challenged him.
He enrolled in a two-year associate program at a technical college, yet upon graduation, struggled to get his foot in the door in the technology sector. He applied to the nonprofit Apprenti program in late 2016 and was placed as a web development apprentice at Seattle-based Avvo.com, a website that helps people find attorneys.
Learning on the job at Avvo meant Farrow was learning the latest skills in a quickly evolving field. He excelled and soon transitioned to a fully qualified journey-level employee ahead of schedule. The 31-year-old is now a permanent member of Avvo’s development team.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do it without Apprenti,” said Farrow, while sharing his story with members of Gov. Jay Inslee’s Career Connect Washington Task Force today at South Puget Sound Community College.
“They gave me the training and placed me in a place that got me ahead in the game,” Farrow said. He added that he wants people to know that “you don’t need to be a genius or the smartest person in your class to be able to have a nice, successful, sustainable career.”
Task force members were visiting SPSCC to share their recommendations with Inslee for improving Washington’s apprenticeship and career-connected learning programs to create more opportunities like the one Farrow received.
The task force’s recommendations come at a pivotal time for the Career Connect Washington initiative, a public-private partnership Inslee launched with the five-year goal of connecting 100,000 young people with employer internships, registered apprenticeships and other learning opportunities to prepare them for the thousands of high-demand job opportunities in the state. Many of these new jobs will not require a traditional four-year degree.
Already, Washington has expanded registered apprenticeship programs, and last year, it awarded $6.4 million in federal grants to career-connected learning programs across the state. But business, government and education leaders envision much more, their interest piqued by a study mission to Switzerland last November to observe its highly regarded apprenticeship system.
State leaders hope that a stronger focus on career-connected learning and STEM education will help fill the skills gap expected to hit the nation’s economy in the next decade.
In Washington over the next five years, employers will need an estimated 740,000 workers in such fields as advanced manufacturing, health care technology, maritime and clean energy.
“As our economy changes, we need to dramatically expand registered apprenticeship, internship and community college opportunities for Washington state’s young people,” said task force co-chair Brad Smith, president of Microsoft. “This will require much closer collaboration between educators, employers and organized labor than we’ve had in the past.”
The task force’s other co-chair is Perry England, vice president of building performance at MacDonald-Miller Facility Solutions. He also chairs the state’s Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board.
“Career-connected learning is a long-standing initiative of the state’s Workforce Board,” England said. “You can see it happening around the state. Now we just need to effectively bring it to scale. By implementing these task force recommendations we can help ensure education puts all our students on a pathway to careers and economic success.”
Task force recommendations will usher in next steps for statewide system
The Career Connect Washington Task Force recommends that Washington:
- Support the expansion of registered pre-apprenticeships, apprenticeships and youth apprenticeships by encouraging both public and private investments at community and technical colleges, high schools and skill centers.
- Create greater access to industry-recognized credentials that allow youth to move more quickly into the workforce.
- Provide resources for formal career exploration classes for middle school students.
- Bring additional career-connected learning opportunities into middle and high schools, helping students gain work experience and a better understanding of the many paths that lead to living-wage careers.
- Create regional and state teams from high-demand industries and occupations to refine career pathways and to help anticipate technological advancements and other changes in these industries.
- Increase mentorship opportunities for young people by supporting professional development partnerships with labor, industry, educators and other community members. This includes supporting teacher externships, which allow teachers to go outside the classroom to master specific skills in high-demand industries.
- Create a strategic plan this year to build a robust career-connected learning and apprenticeship system over the next decade. Already, Inslee has selected Maud Daudon, former president and CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, to oversee this strategic plan. She started in this new role this week.
“Our goal is to better connect students to the many career opportunities available to them in Washington state, inspiring excellence and a quest for lifelong learning through high-quality, on-the-job learning experiences including apprenticeships, internships and mentorship,” Daudon said. “Working closely with employers on their needs and grounding this work on the many existing efforts within the state, we will drive the creation of a fully integrated state system built off best practices around the country and globe.”
Since starting its work, the task force has heard many success stories like Farrow’s.
Another is that of Annabel Warnell, an engineer with Landau & Associates in Olympia who shared at today’s meeting just how important mentorship and career exploration was to helping her achieve her dream of becoming an engineer.
Through the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship program, Warnell’s mentor challenged her to look at what she truly valued in a career and to get an internship that fit those values.
“Having an internship at Landau & Associates had an enormous impact on my career development goals and the direction of my education,” the 24-year-old said. “I was able to work with professional geotechnical engineers, civil engineers, architects and representatives from different cities and counties.”
She add that the sooner a student can get hands-on experience, the better. Internships “allow students to draw connections between what they are learning in the classroom and how they might realistically apply that in the field,” she said.
STEM education continues to make progress
STEM education is an important piece of career-connected learning, along with community and technical colleges, registered adult and youth apprenticeships, and four-year universities.
And as the Career Connect Washington initiative progresses, so do the state’s efforts in STEM education, according to the STEM Education Innovation Alliance’s 2018 STEM Education Report Card.
The report card shows an increase in kindergarten students’ readiness in math, more interest in STEM studies among high school students, better prepared STEM students in college, a better alignment of STEM education programs with workforce demands and a rise in the number of people completing STEM degrees and certificate programs.
“We are working hard to prepare the next generation of Washington’s workforce for high-demand, good-paying careers, including jobs in the clean energy economy,” Inslee said. “While this is great news, there is still much more to do, including ensuring that underrepresented communities can access these opportunities.”
The STEM Education Innovation Alliance has made several recommendations to Inslee and the Legislature to extend Washington’s support for STEM, including boosting STEM education and career-connected learning from kindergarten to graduate school and recruiting underrepresented students and working adults for postsecondary STEM programs.