Equity and opportunity matter. Seattle Public Schools and the Seattle Building & Construction Trades Council just launched a groundbreaking new “Student and Community Workforce Agreement,” which is among the first in the nation to build a construction training and employment program that places equity and students, former students and student families at its center.
This agreement will create access into high-wage, no-debt construction careers for students, families and neighborhoods that need it most. Black, indigenous and all people of color, those from economically distressed areas, women and veterans need this systemic change for the opportunity to achieve economic stability and achieve stronger career outcomes.
When Seattle voters approved the BEX V capital levy, they trusted Seattle Public Schools with more than $1 billion to make schools more welcoming, modernized and safe. These same dollars can do more to strengthen economic stability in families and communities by ensuring a pathway to the jobs created by the levy and future capital investments.
The agreement was approved after many years of advocacy and research, including a six-month deliberative process by a board commissioned task force that included a diverse group of community, construction industry, union, training and education leaders.
We agree with the many voices heard by the School Board — including supportive student input — that the time has come for the district’s capital investments to be leveraged to open access and opportunity into construction careers for students, their families and the local community. With our communities struggling under mounting economic hardships and systemic and institutional racism — exacerbated by COVID-19 — we must act now to steward Seattle voters’ tax dollars meaningfully by reinvesting in Seattle workers.
Seattle Public Schools’ new community workforce agreement will create priority training and employment for SPS construction projects at or above $5 million, similar to already successful programs at the city of Seattle, King County and the Port of Seattle, among others. On every metric, the city of Seattle has increased construction work by targeted populations near or above 10% through its community workforce agreement.
This schools’ agreement is long overdue. As Michelle Merriweather, president and CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, shared, “The path toward equity in career development and construction contracting has been a long one, but we are so pleased with this exciting new partnership, which will foster equity and opportunity, and support the community.”
While SPS moves ahead on implementing the agreement, we must all work to ensure its success by holding the district and contractors accountable. SPS will be supplementing its existing Seattle Skills Center programs with curricula that supports construction careers, providing students more options to graduate better prepared to enter the workforce.
We can all help find youth and community members interested in using their hands and exploring a career in the construction industry. We can all learn more about the high-wage and benefits in career pathways available in construction, including SPS’ existing Seattle Skills Center Construction Trades classes and soon-to-be available options with pre-apprenticeships, and potential preferred entry into apprenticeships.
As we live out our values and commitments of increasing racial equity, equitable opportunities and more choices in education, we also recommit our education systems to career and technical education programs that help prepare vocationally-minded students for career success. The traditionally high and consistent workforce demand for skilled craftspeople has created an economic imperative for us to craft and enter into this agreement. If successful, the workforce agreement could help reignite a passion for learning in students who have felt disconnected in traditional classroom learning environments. There is also a strong business case for such agreements for their benefit to employers in increasing workplace predictability and a trained worker pipeline.
We invite you to join us in celebrating this historic moment and share with our youth, parents, families and workers the exciting possibilities of careers in the trades. Let’s get to work building this crucial career pathway in Seattle Public Schools and beyond.