About 70% of job openings in Washington state over the next five years will require some form of postsecondary education. Yet today, only 40% of Washington students complete a credential after high school. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in math to figure out that’s a problem.

In 2019, the Legislature wisely approved the Workforce Education Investment Act to address the issue. It not only funded sliding-scale college scholarships but also established the Career Connect Washington system to help students with alternate career pathways.

Although there is still a long way to go, in less than two years, the public-private initiative — a coalition of industry, labor and education leaders — has built a strong foundation. More than 90 career and apprenticeship programs have been approved and almost 13,000 students enrolled, according to a new report. It is a milestone worth celebrating.

The common nearly myopic focus on getting all students into a four-year college has shifted for the better over the last few years. However, recognizing there are different pathways to a successful career and a good-paying job is only the first step. It is even more crucial to allow students to gain real world experience and explore those options.

Successful apprenticeship programs and industry-focused education — such as Raisbeck Aviation High School — are not new to the area, but Career Connect wants to expand and support high-quality programs across the state.

By the time the Class of 2030 graduates, the goal is for all students to be exposed to career opportunities or receive career-specific training, with 60% of students completing a paid job program aligned with academic instruction by the time they are 30.

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Participation in a career program does not preclude someone from pursuing a traditional college degree. Ideally, it gives students the choice to continue academically, seek additional training or start their career, officials said.

“It makes sense for parents and it makes sense for young people. They love the idea of doing something in the real world,” said Maud Daudon, head of Career Connect Washington. “It also makes sense for employers because they’re desperate for talent.”

Current programs are available in a variety of industries, including aerospace, automotive, biotech, education, health care, information technology and manufacturing. Career Connect provides an online directory featuring opportunities throughout the state, with hundreds available in Seattle alone.

To truly make a dent in the need for qualified workers, that 13,000 enrollment figure needs to be closer to 50,000, officials said, but there is the will and the momentum to get there over the next eight years. Right now, the problem is letting people know.

“The biggest challenge we have is actually students knowing where to find these programs. It’s very difficult,” Daudon said. “We need to spread the word.”

Consider it spread.