As a wave of Washington's manufacturing workforce prepares for retirement, there are not enough students in the pipeline to fill those good-paying industry jobs.

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For years, American manufacturers have expressed concern about a gap between the talent they need and the workers they can find. According to a 2015 report from Deloitte, 3.5 million American manufacturing jobs need to be filled by 2025, but two million of them are expected to go unfilled because of a lack of skilled workers. This challenge is becoming particularly acute as a wave of Washington’s manufacturing workforce prepares for retirement.

For example, about 30 percent of Washington’s aerospace engineers and machinists are retirement eligible. Other industries face similar challenges. These retirements will open the door for a new generation of manufacturing employees. We should see the need for talent for what it can be — a great opportunity for our state’s young people.

There are solid, rewarding manufacturing jobs in Washington state, the kind of work that has supported families and communities for generations. But there aren’t enough would-be mechanics, engineers and other skilled workers in the pipeline to fill anticipated openings. Too few students are acquiring the skills needed to build the airplanes, boats and the other products manufactured here.

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We believe 21st century career and technical education (CTE) programs are an important part of the solution. For example, Core Plus is a two-year, standardized manufacturing curriculum that is recognized by industry, taught in high school and prepares students for high-demand jobs through hands-on learning. The first year focuses on foundational courses common to all manufacturing industries (such as shop safety and materials science). The second year includes industry-specific courses, in aerospace for example. Depending on their school district, students can use Core Plus classes to satisfy math, science, English, career and technical education (CTE), and/or elective credit requirements.

Core Plus is a resounding success among its students, and the employers and postsecondary programs who welcome its alumni. More than 150 high school graduates who participated in Core Plus programs were hired into various positions at Boeing this year. Others went on to pursue other employment, apprenticeships, industry certificates and degrees.

Core Plus is available in nearly 40 high schools and skills centers. Programs are launching every semester, with expansion in Bellingham, Hoquiam, Federal Way, Spokane and other areas this fall. In some communities, such as Renton, which has a rich tradition of aerospace employment, Core Plus classes are full to bursting and families are clamoring for more. In other areas, students, families and educators are just becoming aware of it.

Students who learn about the opportunities that CTE programs like Core Plus offer are enthusiastic. Likewise, students, parents and counselors are sometimes surprised at how well these classes work for students who want to go directly to work or pursue higher education. Mike Solohubovskyy, a Boeing employee who took Core Plus classes as a high school student at the Sno-Isle TECH Skills Center in Everett, states, “Core Plus gives you a baseline of real-world skills and opportunities to see the right path for you.” Today, Mike works on the 767 Tanker Program and is a student at Everett Community College.

Every student should have access to programs and skills that help turn their education and personal interests into careers that support healthy and fulfilling lives. CTE programs provide pathways for students who learn by doing and who want to apply hands-on skills to a job, apprenticeship, or postsecondary program. The options are many. The job openings are plentiful.

Given the clear need and opportunity, we urge school districts to consider offering and expanding CTE programs, and we urge policymakers to support such programs across the state.

Let’s work together not only to shrink the skills gap, but more importantly to help more of our students plan their paths from education to careers and rewarding futures.