The straight line from high school to college to career success — often considered the preferred path to a living wage — is no longer the prevailing wisdom. Too many Washingtonians are being left behind, with only 40% of students completing a credential after high school.
Realizing that a strong educated workforce depends on a variety of alternate career and apprenticeship pathways, lawmakers stepped up and established the Career Connect Washington system in 2019 as part of the Workforce Education Investment Act.
The public-private partnership, which brings together industry, labor and education to expand and support apprenticeship programs, was an important step, but it can’t be the last.
Lawmakers have the chance to continue their work by backing efforts to develop apprenticeships in high-growth and nontraditional fields, ensure that all students have equal access to financial aid, and make it easier for apprenticeship graduates to go on to earn a traditional college degree.
Senate Bill 5600, sponsored by Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, establishes grants to help apprenticeship programs upgrade equipment and use remote instruction, as well as fund wraparound support services — including child care and transportation — to allow more students to participate.
It concentrates apprenticeships by economic sector, with the goal of giving industry the ability to develop new programs and respond quickly to changing demands. It also develops apprenticeship programs for state agencies, which could help mitigate workforce shortages, such as those in the Washington State Ferry system.
As lawmakers debate this bill, they should consider including reciprocity with registered apprenticeship programs recognized at the federal level, as well as focusing on creating opportunities in underserved rural areas, two issues discussed during a recent public hearing.
SB 5600’s partner legislation, Senate Bill 5764, cuts the red tape that prevents apprenticeship students from using the Washington College Grant, leveling the playing field and allowing for more “permeable pathways,” said Sen. Emily Randall, D-Bremerton.
Randall’s bill also ensures that apprenticeships result in college credit and reforms course credit systems that make it difficult to award credentials to apprentices.
“We should be valuing the countless hours of on-the-job training and the education that apprenticeship grads have received, and make sure that they can transfer that credit appropriately,” she said.
In improving and expanding the viability of apprenticeship programs in Washington, these proposals help continue the shift away from the blinkered college-or-bust mentality that continues to leave too many students dealing with the latter.
Legislators should support both bills.