Vocational education is worth Inslee’s $110 million request

Gov. Jay Inslee is proposing $110 million for vocational programs so high school graduates will be better prepared for future technical jobs
Gov. Jay Inslee is proposing $110 million for vocational programs so high school graduates will be better prepared for future technical jobs

With 740,000 high-paying, highly-skilled jobs expected to open in Washington state over the next five years, it would be a shame if our own high school graduates were not prepared to snag them.

But if we don’t make some changes to our education system soon, that will be the case.

These jobs are going to be in specialized fields that require skills not necessarily acquired by reading textbooks, and students will need to be prepped accordingly.

Currently, that’s not happening.

An emphasis on standardized tests over the past couple decades inadvertently led to a college-for-all attitude that has permeated many communities. In order to boost college and test-prep courses, a number of school districts de-emphasized vocational education programs.

Promoting the need to get higher education is admirable, but now business leaders say the shift has gone too far. They lament not enough is being done to expose students to trade schools and certificate programs in high-demand fields.

And with these jobs expected to grow faster than applicants in the talent pipeline, employers are eager to get our state’s high school students ready to fill them.

Gov. Jay Inslee and state education officials are trying to help by designating $110 million to promote vocational and technical education.

The money is worth it, and lawmakers should not hesitate to support this part of Inslee’s proposed state budget.

It will fund programs designed to connect students of all ages to careers they probably don’t know exist. The money will help boost apprenticeship programs at the high school level, and give students a chance to gain experience in a technical field before they graduate.

We’re talking hands-on experience with employers who are looking to fill jobs.

Inslee’s budget request includes $22 million designated for K-12 and Community and Technical College programs, $16 million for workers in health care, information technology and aerospace and the construction trades, and $18 million so schools can buy equipment.

Another $26 million to develop apprenticeship programs and establish career connected curriculum is also part of the plan, as is $6 million that targets underserved student populations.

In the Tri-Cities, we are fortunate to be ahead of the curve when it comes to STEM programs – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

Ten years ago community leaders in our region saw the need to form an alliance that would support STEM education, and their drive led to the creation of Delta High School, the Mid-Columbia’s STEM school that attracts students from throughout the Tri-Cities.

Leaders of the Mid-Columbia STEM Network and the Washington State STEM Education Foundation said the organization has now reached out to Tri-City trade organizations to include them in their efforts. That’s a wise and timely move. Thanks to STEM leaders in our community, we are in a great position to enhance technical education throughout the region if Inslee’s plan is approved.

Attending college after high school is a worthwhile goal for many high school students, but for too long it’s been a path that overshadowed all others.

Career and technical programs are the perfect fit for a number of students, and there will be jobs waiting for them after graduation. We need to make sure our high school graduates have the opportunity and the training to go after them.