Career pathways to skip the skills mismatch

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We had two great presentations in the Council’s Economic Resiliency & Regional Relations Committee yesterday on current job trends and the better coordination under way in the Seattle area to prep people to be successful competing in the sectors that are hiring. Matt Houghton from the City’s Office of Economic development started off breaking down the current 8 percent unemployment rate in this area. Approximately 3 or 4 percent is considered “normal” unemployment (unless you’re the person unemployed). Approximately 4 percent is due to the contracted economy and approximately 1 percent is due to a mismatch between the worker skills available and the worker skills needed. You might be out there searching and see plenty of “help wanted” ads, but not in the fields you know. Despite 8 percent unemployment around here, approximately 17 percent of employers have recently reported difficulty finding qualified workers to fill jobs.

Then let’s add in the overall increase in competition for well-paying work. It takes more education and skills prep to earn a decent income and this trend will continue. The big figure everyone is using estimates that 67 percent of all jobs in Washington will require some kind of post-high school education between 2014 and 2019. Some kind of education after high school, a year in college even, has become the single biggest predictor of life-long earning power. And the further you go in post-high school education and training, the better your prospects.

But how? If you’re out there working in a lower-paying job, you need an education or training boost the most, but face the highest hurdles. Cost is one hurdle, the need for remedial courses in math or reading can be another. The partners in the Pathways to Careers and Pathways to Completion projects have identified significant transition points where people fall out of the system for one reason or another. Like between acceptance to community college or training program and actually signing up for classes. The programs focus on standardizing and compressing the long and somewhat mysterious application and prep time periods, working people into a cohort for mutual support, mandatory program orientation and advising and overall support with getting to class and achieving completion goals.

The City of Seattle is a partner in the Pathways to Careers work and I think it’s money well spent. Giving people the boost they need to get even a little post-high school education can change individual lives and the trajectory of a family. Job competition will only get hotter. Leaving people behind is unacceptable. Thanks to Seattle Community Colleges, the Seattle Jobs Initiative, The Workforce Development Council, OED and to funders like the Gates Foundation for their work.

Soon we’ll talk about the 13 year concept embraced by Seattle Community Colleges and others as a way to institutionalize access to post-high school education – and the life-long benefits it can bring.