Educational improvements can have a direct connection with improvements in urban affordability by providing young people with the opportunity to enter well-paying jobs with fewer barriers. I strongly support preschool and primary school strategies for increasing access to a good education, but there are also programs currently in place in Washington that target the high school level. Providing financial support to these institutions and making an effort to connect students with local businesses will have positive benefits at all levels of our communities.
While interning in the Economic Development Department at the City of Burien, my team worked closely with the Puget Sound Skills Center (PSSC) to pair qualified students seeking experience with local businesses seeking talent. I was impressed with the program options at the PSSC, but also struck by the limited exposure of a program that has such practical benefits.
There are twenty skills centers in the state of Washington, funded through the state Legislature and private grants. By supplementing the work of local high schools and creating partnerships with businesses, they are capable of meeting an important need for our community as we deal with dramatic changes in employment options, technology, education funding, and higher education affordability.
The program accepts students for specific targeted tracks, such as nursing, graphic design, and marine science technology. Students participate in an accelerated learning environment while completing their high school requirements simultaneously at their home high school. Many students leave the skills centers with college credit, a certificate that allows them to work immediately, or an apprenticeship position.
This option is available to all students, and can be a supplement to traditional high school classes or a full time strategy for students who do well with alternate learning styles. In all cases, it encourages students to get involved with the local business community. For example, a partnership with Boeing helps to place aerospace engineering students in skilled jobs directly after high school graduation.
This feedback loop between education and industry is critical to the future of our city, but we must be willing to invest the resources to cultivate it. The skills centers need funding, marketing, and exposure. They provide practical skills that have the potential to change the future of a student or the student’s family, but they are not well-known and may have grossly inadequate facilities. The cost for the program is higher than traditional high school, presenting a substantial challenge in our current education funding climate, but the measurable results provide clear evidence that this type of alternative increases long term outcomes for families.
While this program may not be the answer for all students, its’ success warrants additional support. One idea is to levy a fee on new construction projects within the skill center service area to be used exclusively for capital funding needs at the centers. This would provide additional funding to maintain the quality of the facilities, with a direct benefit to the surrounding community by providing youth with the tools to be immediately productive citizens. Creative solutions to support youth education are a clear investment in the future of our city and a step toward affordability in the short and long terms.