ABOUT 25,000 Washington job openings in the science and engineering fields remain unfilled because of a lack of qualified applicants.

Not only is this number growing each year, it highlights the failure of federal and state leaders in closing the widening skills gap for students and adults.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., is collaborating with Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia on a bill to overhaul the nation’s workforce development system.

After years of haggling between parties, Murray and Isakson shepherded the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act through the U.S. Senate last week by a vote of 95 to 3.

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The U.S. House — especially members of Washington’s congressional delegation — should also pass this legislation.

As Murray said on the floor last week, we “can’t expect to adequately train Americans for jobs at Boeing or Microsoft with programs designed in the 1990s.”

The act eliminates 15 ineffective federal programs, increases accountability metrics, reduces bureaucracy, improves programs for people with disabilities, and strengthens ties between the state’s regional workforce development councils and employers.

Marlena Sessions, the chief executive of the Workforce Development Council of Seattle-King County, says the bill is overdue and significant.

While the current job-training system has largely focused on helping the unemployed update their skills, Sessions says the Senate bill would affirm the local council’s more recent two-pronged approach to getting people back to work, known as “sector training.” This means Development Council staff meets with business leaders to learn exactly what skills they need to thrive, then they connect the unemployed to training that will better prepare them to fill those very jobs.

The federal bill would add momentum to the council’s efforts to expand partnerships with Pacific Northwest employers in the maritime, aerospace, health care, public and interactive gaming sectors. There’s a reason unemployment hovers around 4.7 percent in King County, compared to the state average of 6.1 percent.

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act is an important tool to help bring those figures down and help people be more productive.

Congress should send this bill to President Obama’s desk without delay.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Erik Smith, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).