STEM training is a solid investment for state and residents

March 21, 2013 

It’s no secret: Washington state faces a shortage of people trained in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Shortages exist for technicians and skilled workers in advanced manufactur-ing, health care, computer technology, engineering and other STEM industries.

Nationally, the demand for skilled workers is great, but here in the Northwest, the shortage is even more critical. Washington state currently ranks first in the country in the concentration of STEM jobs, but is projected to leave about 300,000 science, technology, engineering and math jobs unfilled between now and 2017 because Washington doesn’t have enough qualified candidates.

Employers of all sizes, whether they are in the private sector, public sector or the military, need these engineers and technicians. This includes large and small businesses, such as the team at Boeing’s Frederickson facility and the staff of Print NW in Tacoma. It also affects the military at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, state workers at the Department of Transportation and teachers at Bellarmine Prep.

Simply put, employers need people proficient in science, technology, engineering and math.

The job prospects for skilled workers with these core competencies are exceptional. STEM jobs are expected to grow by 17 percent through 2018, compared with 10 percent for the rest of the labor market. According to Georgetown University, STEM workers also earn about 26 percent more than non-STEM workers.

Given that Washington state is poised to have an increased demand for workers with STEM-related skills, efforts should be made to strengthen STEM programs at the high school and two-year college level.

This allows students to be successful whether it means graduating with an associate degree and going to work or transferring to a four-year university to obtain a bachelor’s or master’s degree prior to joining the workforce. Fifty percent of science and engineering graduates have attended a community college.

Washington’s community and technical colleges and private technical schools are a collective, powerful, unmatched resource for advancing prosperity through education.

The 34 statewide colleges and private technical schools, such as Perry Technical in Yakima, not only connect with employers in the regions where they operate, but also with each other through common programs.

For example, the advanced manufacturing and health care programs align with Washington’s overall job-growth strategy. This approach connects every community to the full range of economic possibilities locally and regionally.

According to a recent economic study by the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, Washington’s two-year colleges and former students add $11 billion annually to the state’s economy.

Supporting STEM programs at Washington’s community and technical colleges and private technical schools proves to be a solid investment.

Don Brunell is the president of the Association of Washington Business, which includes more than 8,000 members representing 700,000 employees.

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