It’s sometimes hard to remember how hard the “What do you want to be when you grow up?” question is. The follow-up question is even harder: “How are you going to get there?”
We know that young people don’t always have the answers, but they are curious and eager to explore their options. They want to learn about different careers and what mix of experience and classroom learning is needed to do those jobs. They are excited about their next steps, but also cautious about challenges like educational debt.
We’ve spent time getting to know the young people in our community, while they spent time getting to know Avista and what it takes to keep the lights on. For a full month over the summer, 17 high school juniors and seniors came to Avista to explore careers in energy. We call it Energy Pathways, and together with of IBEW Local Union 77 and others, we were able to give these students hands-on experience about the range of jobs at a utility.
The program opened up a whole new set of possibilities in the minds of these students, and made it clear to us how hungry young people are for practical career experiences that will inform their next choices.
The good news is that we’re not alone in trying to open doors for students. “Career-connected learning” is a broad term for programs that help students explore, prepare and start their careers. It helps kids get out of the classroom and try on different jobs and different industries, so when it’s time to make big life decisions, they are better prepared to step up.
And they are going to need to step up. We expect 740,000 jobs to open in Washington in the next five years. The challenge is that 70 percent of them will require some kind of advanced credential—high school is not enough preparation for most current jobs, much less the jobs of tomorrow.
It is not enough to do this alone, one employer and one small group of students at a time. Career Connect Washington is a coalition of employers, unions, educators, state agencies and others who are trying to ensure that all students in the state have the chance to do career-connected learning.
As an employer and union representing employees, we are proud of our shared core values, including the belief that we must provide efficient, reliable and safe service. We know we need a skilled, trained and educated workforce to do it. We’re successful now because we work together, and developing our workforce is a key goal of our partnership.
That’s why we’re so excited to bring young people into Avista, show them the work we do, and help them understand their options. It doesn’t matter whether a student’s path takes them to an apprenticeship, an internship, an advanced certificate or a college degree: everyone benefits when they have the chance to look around.
In the energy industry, we’re experiencing a wave of retirements that are creating opportunities for a variety of good-paying, high-skilled jobs, many of which don’t require a four-year college degree. Energy Pathways and our apprenticeship programs help us meet those workforce needs.
But to remain competitive, not just at Avista but also in the state, Washington, we need to help workers not just with skills, or with education, but with both.
Governor Jay Inslee has made a significant commitment to career-connected learning programs in his 2019-2020 budget. With the active support of employers, unions and educators, and with increased financial support and some policy changes from the legislature, we can build a career-connected learning system that will allow all students to explore multiple pathways to economic success and life fulfillment.
We encourage everyone to learn more about Career Connect Washington by visiting www.CareerConnectWA.org.
Scott Morris is chairman and CEO of Avista Corp. Mike Brown is Assistant Business Manager, IBEW Local 77.