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News / Opinion / Editorials
The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

In Our View: Start today building workforce of tomorrow

The Columbian
Published: February 28, 2019, 6:03am

Whether because of planning or serendipity, Washington has been perfectly positioned to take advantage of the tech boom of the past 30 years and the jobs it has created. The state has been the birthplace of Microsoft, Amazon and countless other corporations that once promised the jobs of the future and now offer the jobs of the present.

But the future is always changing, and that calls for foresight of what those changes will mean to the economy. Two bills in the Legislature provide an intriguing glimpse into what that future might hold and how Washington can best prepare for it.

Senate Bill 5327 and House Bill 1336 have arrived under the heading of “Expanding career connected learning opportunities” and are currently in committee in each chamber. Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, is a co-sponsor of the Senate bill; Reps. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, and Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, have signed on to the House bill.

The premise sounds simple but can be difficult to put into practice: Create a framework for businesses, educators and students to work together in developing the workforce of the future. During a recent meeting with The Columbian’s Editorial Board, supporters of the plan explained how they are putting it into practice in Clark County, under the auspices of the Southwest Washington STEM Network.

SEH America, for example, has a pilot program to train young employees for the company’s technical jobs. The east Vancouver silicon wafer manufacturer provides part-time apprenticeships and college tuition, along with the likelihood of future employment and tuition for further education if the student pursues it. As Marc Casale, a Seattle-based management consultant, said, “Every form of post-secondary education should include a work component.”

That represents a changing reality of education in the United States. There is strong evidence that a college degree, on average, results in lifelong financial benefits. And there is strong evidence that a post-secondary degree is particularly essential in this state’s competitive job market. Seattle recently was acknowledged as the most educated of all big cities in the United States — and 8 of 10 newcomers have a college degree.

But it is essential to note that there are various methods for receiving the necessary education. The traditional path of leaving high school for a four-year college and sitting in class while working toward a degree does not work for everybody. Neither does beginning an entry-level job while hoping to eventually work your way up in a burgeoning industry.

Natalie Pacholl, a training and development specialist at SEH America, told the editorial board that the program combines academic studies with real-world experience, pays for a trainee’s school and builds their work schedule around their academic schedule. In addition to providing benefits for young employees, the system helps to develop workers for high-tech companies.

Expanding such programs can be essential to the long-term success of Washington companies. In 2017, Gov. Jay Inslee formed the Career Connect Washington Task Force to examine the future of jobs and employees in Washington, and the bills are a natural extension of that. With Washington manufacturers frequently reporting a lack of employees and the need to recruit from out of state, it makes sense for businesses and educators to explore options for developing local workers.

The future of business is constantly changing. Anticipating those changes and preparing for them now will help the state maintain a robust economy.