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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Todd Mielke: Career Connected Learning strengthens employer-educator partnerships

By Todd Mielke Greater Spokane Incorporated

It’s no secret that talent is a main driver in growing and retaining business in our region. However, preparing students to meet the needs of Washington employers is a challenge when, in the next five years, approximately 225,500 family-sustaining-wage jobs will require credentials, certificates or two- and four-year degrees in STEM fields.

Part of the answer? Career Connect Washington, a system of programs that enables businesses to partner with education in developing a talent pipeline that provides awareness of, exploration in and preparation for the real business world.

Greater Spokane Incorporated knows that a high-quality, diverse talent pool is essential to not only recruiting business to the region, but for current businesses to grow and expand. Helping young people imagine multiple career opportunities builds curiosity and awareness and can set them on a path to successfully fill one of the 225,500 jobs that will be open in the next five years.

Having a highly skilled workforce is a game changer for our region. For this very reason, GSI staffs the Spokane STEM Network and has a long history of building business and education partnerships through programs that highlight high-demand STEM careers in our region’s businesses.

Regional networks like Spokane STEM convene and connect employers and educators to design programs that make students aware of opportunities and create pathways to help them realize their true potential. Recent efforts have resulted in increased business engagement across the region and provide a solid foundation for the next generation of our state’s workforce.

At Avista, select high school juniors and seniors take part in a four-week, on-the-job experience known as Energy Pathways. This placement allows local students to experience the energy delivery business firsthand with facility tours, hands-on activities, job shadowing and more. The students completing the program earn career and technical education credit and a $2,000 stipend – a nice introduction to the opportunities and rewards of a career.

Last fall, Wagstaff, a Spokane Valley-based, worldwide leader in aluminum casting technology, hosted more than 100 interested and engaged middle and high school students, parents and educators as part of GSI’s Business After School program. The program showcases many of Spokane’s business and industry environments while providing students, teachers and parents a real-world glimpse into a variety of occupations.

Another employer, Providence Health Care, offers medical assistant apprenticeships for qualified high school graduates that can lead to earn-to-learn opportunities for young people to earn medical certifications and degrees while they work. Entering its third year, the program is designed to provide medical career pathways for high school students. This unique program enables Providence to directly assist building the workforce of the future.

These innovative programs are just some of the ways to address the looming talent pipeline shortage to create a talented, homegrown and skilled workforce. That’s why Spokane STEM, GSI and Washington STEM are advocating for Career Connect Washington. The proposal includes funding for regional networks around the state to pilot and implement data-driven and scalable solutions like Business After School. Building partnerships in business and education is critical in linking youth to economic opportunity by immersing them in career connected learning experiences.

In the coming weeks, the Washington state Senate and House will decide what programs to fund in their budget proposals. We urge the Legislature to fund the Career Connected Learning legislation as it represents a comprehensive system developed over an inclusive two-year planning process.

Career Connected Learning will help give students – regardless of their economic status – a chance to thrive in a robust economy. It will help keep the greater Spokane area competitive and economically vibrant.

Todd Mielke is chief executive officer of Greater Spokane Incorporated.