A survey of Washington Roundtable member companies shows a universal preference to hire Washington kids for Washington jobs. But why are too few of our children ready for the workplace?

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STUDENTS in Washington classrooms today will soon enter a job market bursting with opportunities. New research from The Boston Consulting Group and the Washington Roundtable projects 740,000 job openings in our state in just the next five years. State job growth over that period is expected to be nearly triple the national average.

Increasingly, Washington students will need a postsecondary credential — such as a technical or industry certification or license, apprenticeship, associate degree or bachelor’s degree — to access the best job opportunities our state has to offer.

Thirty-five percent (or 260,000) of projected job openings are “career jobs.” These positions offer the highest annual salaries (averaging $60,000 to $100,000-plus) and a clear ladder for upward mobility. Examples of career jobs include registered nurses, teachers and technology professionals. More than 90 percent of the workers who fill these jobs will have a credential (73 percent) or some college education (18 percent).

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A survey of Washington Roundtable member companies shows a universal preference to hire Washington kids for Washington jobs.

The largest number of openings — 45 percent (or 330,000 jobs) — will be what we call “pathway jobs.” Examples of these positions include construction laborers, service and retail positions and office-administration jobs. They offer annual salaries ranging from $30,000 to $45,000. These positions also have a direct route to a career job. Workers with a credential or some college education will fill nearly two-thirds of these jobs.

Twenty percent (or 150,000) of the openings will be entry-level. These jobs — in fields like food service, farm labor, and housekeeping — offer opportunities to gain important work experience. However, compensation is lower ($20,000 to $30,000 a year) and there is little opportunity for upward mobility. Workers with a credential or some college education will fill nearly half of these jobs.

A survey of Washington Roundtable member companies shows a universal preference to hire Washington kids for Washington jobs. We have no doubt other employers feel similarly.

The challenge is this: Just 31 percent of the students who attend a public high school in our state go on to attain a postsecondary credential by age 26. Less than a third are prepared for the jobs of the future. That’s not good enough.

The Washington Roundtable has set an ambitious goal: By 2030, 70 percent of Washington students will earn a postsecondary credential by the age of 26. An education advisory team to Mayor Ed Murray recently recommended a similar goal for Seattle students.

Increasing postsecondary attainment to 70 percent statewide means that, in a class of 81,000 students (the typical size of the state’s public high-school cohort), 31,000 more Washington students would earn a credential. As a result, each would earn nearly $1 million more over his or her lifetime. Their collective successes would reduce unemployment by a third and cut poverty by nearly half, saving our state $3.5 billion a year in social spending.

We can meet the goal and enhance the lifetime prospects of young Washingtonians by adopting a “cradle to career” approach to education. Efforts should focus in four areas:

• Improve school-readiness, emphasizing services for low-income children and traditionally underserved populations.

• Improve the performance of the K-12 system to ensure more students graduate career- and college-ready.

• Increase participation of Washington students in postsecondary education, focusing on high-demand fields.

• Help students, beginning in elementary schools, understand career opportunities. Inspire them to think about their futures and develop the necessary skills to attain their goals.

Washington employers are creating exciting and fulfilling job opportunities. Taking these sensible steps would ensure our own students have what they need to compete for those opportunities and succeed in their home state. When that happens, we all benefit.