As business leaders and teachers, we know that people learn differently and work differently. And just as businesses need a diversity of skill sets, students need more than one career pathway after high school. In a recent public survey, 75 percent of Washington residents believe students need more exposure to on-the-job learning opportunities.
Students and families are eager to combine classroom learning with work-based experiences that will help them explore their options for life after high school. Students who are provided the opportunity to “test drive” multiple careers are better able to identify the path that fits them.
This is the idea behind career-connected learning. It’s an approach that combines career and academic education in a “braided pathway.” It can start in elementary school, with fun activities to learn about different jobs. Middle school programs include skill-assessment surveys, guest speakers or job shadows. High school students can do real job preparation through course and skills training, internships and registered apprenticeships.
Employers and school districts are already working together on this vision. For example, the Toppenish School District’s college and career learning starts in preschool with simple awareness. By the time students graduate, they are thinking creatively and critically, communicating effectively, working in teams, solving problems, showing up on time and being prepared.
Learning also happens outside the classroom walls. This fall, the Computer Integrated Machining class visited Matson Fruit to see the robotics automation that students were developing in the engineering lab. Students saw first-hand the need for an automated robot that made the work more efficient; they also saw how trouble-shooting occurs in a real environment.
About 740,000 jobs are projected to open in Washington state in the next five years, and about 70 percent will require a post-high school credential; either a degree or advanced credential that combines both classroom and on-the-job proficiency.
These programs are already working in our area. Employers like Rankin Equipment, Cub Crafters, Magic Metals, Pexco Aviation, and Triumph Actuation Systems have opened their doors to high school students; others are working directly with our community colleges. We’re also learning from other how to increase opportunities for Yakima residents; for example, we’re learning from Spokane how to develop a working health care apprenticeship.
These investments are good for students and communities. Businesses are eager to hire local talent, and many young people don’t want to leave town in order to build their lives. These programs can knit together the interests of employers and young people to build good careers.
We know these programs work; we also know there are not enough of them. Career Connect Washington is a group of business, labor, education and government leaders who are working together to expand these programs to every student in the state. Governor Jay Inslee included $110 million in his budget for workforce education that funds opportunities for both current and future workers. These investments will enable us to expand opportunities for our young people to learn and prepare for their future careers.
We encourage people who want to learn more to visit www.CareerConnectWA.org. Together, we can ensure that our students have pathways to success, that our businesses can hire locally and that our communities stay strong.
• Jack Fitzgerald is the executive director of South Cerntal Workforce Development Council. Jonathan Smith is the executive director of the Yakima County Development Association. Bonnie Smith is the director of Career and Technical Education, Toppenish School District.