Education’s first-responders help cure economic doldrums

It’s a disturbing irony.

  • Wednesday, December 3, 2008 12:00am
  • Opinion

It’s a disturbing irony.

Washington state’s 5.8 percent unemployment rate tops the national average. Our job market shrank last month by nearly 13,000 jobs, more per-capita than in all but six other states.

Yet as of mid-November, Monster.com still listed 5,000 vacant jobs within 50 miles of Bellevue. How can this be?

Our local workforce does not offer the right skills in sufficient quantities to meet economic needs, and employers and the unemployed both suffer. It need not be that way.

Forty percent –- 2,000 — of the 5,000 local jobs on Monster.com require exactly the skills taught at Bellevue Community College and our sister institutions.

We are the educational first-responders in times like these, fielding new programs in high-demand fields when employers’ and community needs change, as they have been with increasing speed in recent years.

With an urgent workforce shortage bedeviling the medical industry, we have more than doubled our health-care skills-training programs, to a total of 22 programs.

In the same way, as our region has welcomed more and more people who are not native speakers of English, community and technical colleges have responded with new and expanded programs to help immigrants and refugees learn English and join the workforce.

Through WorkFirst we provide similar opportunities for low-income residents, while our Worker Retraining program focuses particularly on helping workers who have been laid off.

Enrollment in job-skills programs at BCC, alone, has risen to well more than 4,000 students. Tellingly, the majority of the growth in BCC’s skills-training programs comes not from recent high school graduates but from working and unemployed adults aged 30 and above.

Because higher education is one of the few discretionary line-items of significant size in Washington’s budget, it will be tempting to make big cuts there. But we must not balance the state budget by limiting the state’s investment in its most precious commodity, human capital, — one of the few state expenditures that actually produces a return on its investment.

Community and technical colleges are more important than ever in an economic downturn.

When times are tight, we cannot afford to shut the door of opportunity and economic revival.


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