The full economic fallout of COVID-19 is still unknown, but early evidence shows that young people are already feeling the squeeze. The Seattle Times headline on April 15, 2020, says it all: “Washington young adults are getting slammed financially by coronavirus crisis, new survey shows.” It goes on to cite some alarming data: 37% of Washingtonians aged 18-29 have lost their job due to the pandemic, with 48% reporting a reduction in pay or hours — higher than any other age group.

After the Great Recession in 2008, young people experienced 16.2% unemployment, twice the national adult rate, even five years out. Now in their 30s, they will never recapture the lost earnings or opportunity from this time. We cannot let this happen again.

That’s why Career Connect Washington (CCW) is doubling down on building viable pathways to college and career for 15- to 29-year-olds and delivering more pathways through virtual learning experiences. CCW works with both our K-12 schools as well as colleges and universities and has worked with partners throughout the state to build more than 150 programs in all sectors of our state’s economy. Whether it’s Avista’s Energy Pathways program in Spokane, the Kaiser/SEIU training fund series of apprenticeships in health care, a Controls Technology registered apprenticeship in Kitsap County co-created by McDonald Miller and Siemens, or a Semiconductor and Electronics Manufacturing Career Launch program in Vancouver, Washington, young people are eager to test drive career pathways while learning and earning to support themselves along the way.

CCW is poised and ready to help our state’s economy and our young adult workforce recover from this severe downturn. We are a coalition of industry, labor, education and community leaders who are creating work-based and academic programs for young people to explore, learn, and earn money and college-level credit. CCW is informed by the Swiss apprenticeship system and is designed to help train and retrain our young adult workforce for jobs in high-demand sectors. It is a model that has proven highly effective in blunting the worst effects of economic downturns. Following the Great Recession, the Swiss economy rebounded earlier than most countries, with a young adult labor participation rate similar to adult unemployment.

CCW gives young adults meaningful, on-the-job experience, paired with relevant classroom learning, in industries that need workers now and in the future like health care, technology, manufacturing, life sciences, aerospace and more. Career connected learning provides a progression of experiences, starting early in elementary and middle schools with Career Explore job fairs and worksite tours; advancing to Career Prep, which includes internships and job shadowing; and culminating in Career Launch, which includes work-based and academic learning with local employers, including registered apprenticeships. This teaches crucial skills needed for success in college and career, and can help students learn what kind of career and work environment best fits them while earning money, college credit and high-demand industry certifications.

To immediately address the needs of students who are staying home for the remainder of the school year, CCW is offering CareerConnect@Home (online: st.news/careerconnect), a monthlong opportunity for students to hear from and interact with leaders from Washington industries and employers. Each school day in May at 3:30 p.m., employers, labor organizations and nonprofits will host a live, online discussion about their industry and their work. Students can ask questions of employer panelists and participate in employer-developed challenges. CareerConnect@Home will provide an outlet for students who may feel isolated at home to look toward the future rather than the current headlines. Although school buildings across Washington are closed through the end of the school year, students should not have to miss out on critical career exploration programs that expose them to new industries, jobs and academically connected career pathways.

CareerConnect@Home is just the first step in expanding and developing new pathways for the next generation of Washingtonians. We have a lot of work ahead of us to ensure that our state recovers fully from this crisis and that we are engaging the skills, imagination and talents of our young people as we do so. Join Career Connect Washington in making sure our young people emerge from this crisis inspired by their potential and on a pathway to their future.