Monday, April 18, 2011

Lots of jobs for folks in the right fields

There’s good news and bad news in a recent report by the Higher Education Coordinating Board (HECB). The good news is that, despite the recession, the number of job openings for people who receive degrees in high-demand fields is increasing; the bad news is that, currently in our state, there are way more job openings than qualified workers to fill them.

The Regional Needs Analysis Report notes that the strongest statewide demand is for degree holders in the areas of:
• Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM);
• Health sciences such as nursing, allied health, medicine, biosciences;
• Specific teaching fields (science and mathematics);
• Business management and accounting.

By the year 2018, 67 percent of all jobs in our state will require some postsecondary education. About 20 percent of those jobs will require some college but no degree, and about 47 percent will require an associate degree or higher.

But right now Washington is not producing enough high-demand degree holders – especially in the STEM fields – to meet its current and future needs. Back in February, Rep. Larry Seaquist, Chair of the Higher Education Committee, talked about the issue here.

To keep employers from continuing to import talent to fill those positions, the Legislature has passed numerous measures in the past few years to increase advanced degree production in Washington state. Here’s a small sample of bills passed for this purpose:
• Enhanced STEM instruction (2010: HB 2621)
• University engineering programs (2009: SB 5276)
• Applied baccalaureate degree pilot program (2008: SB 5104)
• HECB Strategic Master Plan (2008: HCR 4408)
• Get Ready for Math & Science Scholarship Program (2007: HB 1779)

These laws are helping us build the skilled workforce needed to satisfy Washington employers. But we’re not there yet, and the current economy is making getting there an increasingly difficult struggle as we grapple with adequately funding our colleges.