For years, students, parents, employers and many other community leaders have been struggling with a question: In today’s thriving economy, why is the path to economic self-sufficiency and fulfillment difficult for so many young adults and students?
We know that today’s jobs require education beyond high school. But our graduation rate is still under 80 percent, and only 40 percent of our high school students earn a credential or degree after high school by the time they are 26 years old.
Meanwhile, businesses can’t find workers with the skills they need. This means that despite the state’s strong economic growth, thousands of Washington students are being left behind every single year.
The situation is serious and getting more urgent. In the next few years, Washington employers are anticipating 740,000 job openings with jobs that require technical certification, apprenticeship or college degrees. We need to get students ready.
Last month, we joined dozens of students, community leaders and lawmakers to celebrate Gov. Jay Inslee’s signing of legislation that will help our education system evolve to provide our kids with sound pathways to economic self-sufficiency in a 21st-century economy.
This bill helps close that gap by investing in free college and other important programs. One of these is Career Connect Washington, which provides a fundamental new framework for connecting students to high demand, high potential jobs, and higher education, job training and actual employment. Through a regional approach of supporting localized networks focused on the needs of our diverse state, each area of our state will be able to help students learn about, explore and prepare for their careers.
These regional networks will coordinate among school districts, employers, colleges and other community partners. This is where we expect to see the most innovation, as every region aligns pathway opportunities with the real jobs in the local economy. They will work on curriculum building for new programs, transferring and scaling existing strong programs, and evaluating and bringing forward “Career Launch” programs for endorsement that are already effective, providing a “quality seal of approval” that families can count on.
No one is wasting a moment, and it’s been thrilling to see so many partners already at work.
Career Connect Washington will also take the lead on spreading the word by reaching out to industry and to young people to encourage their continued participation in pathway programs. A state agency work group will help coordinate changes that are necessary within state government to remove barriers to implementation.
The end goal of this approach will be a career-connected learning system deeply embedded within the state’s K-12 and higher education system offering students multiple pathways to economic and life fulfillment. By braiding a student’s pathway, they can meaningfully explore their potential interests while earning academic credit and, in more advanced experiences, pay.
Other states are watching. This project has its genesis with Gov. Inslee’s leadership at the National Governors Association. Republican and Democratic governors across the country are actively studying the legislation to follow in our footsteps.
In a good economy, people have a real and fair chance to succeed with job opportunities that offer meaningful work, allowing people to support their families and come home every day with a sense of dignity.
As parents, students and workers, and leaders of education, government and industry, we must ensure that all people in our communities have the opportunity to participate fully in our future economy. Career Connect Washington is critical to ensuring that those doors are truly open to everyone.