Higher Education & Workforce Development

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Continued success of the region’s economy relies on a trained and talented workforce. The region has a strong network of education and training institutions that produce world-class talent. However, the regional economy has a demand for talent that outstrips the region’s capacity to produce that talent. The central Puget Sound region is among the most educated regions in the nation with 42% of residents holding a bachelor’s degree or higher. However, each year the region imports highly trained workers from around the world to fill open positions. Even during the COVID-19 recession, regional employers struggled to find workers for high demand jobs, constraining opportunities for these regional sectors to expand and compete.

Recessions and recoveries add new challenges to the demand and supply of workers. Some of the jobs lost during a recession don’t come back, with later job gains in other types of work. These occupational shifts can leave trained workers with fewer employment opportunities, and employers challenged with filling open positions. Regional workforce development programs are challenged with meeting the needs of local employers as well as working to supplement the training and education of dislocated workers.

Challenges and Opportunities

The region has identified the following key issues, opportunities, and challenges in sustaining the region’s economy:

Workforce gaps exists in high demand occupations and industry sectors

Each industry faces different challenges in meeting demand for workers, and a lack of qualified candidates has resulted in unfilled jobs because of skills gaps.

A network of workforce development organizations to meet the needs of the region’s workers

Government, local employers, training providers, educational institutions, service and advocacy groups, and other local organizations work to make sure the regional workforce system succeeds in strengthening the talent pool, expanding economic opportunity, and serving displaced workers.

(New/Expanded) COVID-19 related recession is accelerating employment shifts

Economic recessions and recoveries accelerate shifts in employment trends, increasing the need to identify and prepare for future workforce needs.

Strategic Response

The region has identified the following strategic focus areas for addressing identified challenges and opportunities:

Coordinate programs in education and training to address workforce gaps and advance economic opportunity

The region should support the development and expansion of education and workforce training programs that target the needs of regional employers, as well as working to improve equitable outcomes for those that the workforce systems serve.

Identified near-term actions:

  • Help students, beginning in elementary school, develop better awareness of the careers that will be available, inspiring them to think about their futures, the skills necessary for the jobs that interest them, and the pathways to attaining those skills.
  • Compile and track regionwide data on occupations and skills needed across key industry sectors to develop local workforce for current and future jobs.
  • Expand investment in current programs to help bridge expected workforce gaps to better fill job openings in the state and provide meaningful careers to the state’s residents, including underserved communities.
  • Expand efforts to equitably recruit potential students into workforce training programs.
  • Embed racial equity goals in workforce development plans and programs and develop strategies to achieve these goals.
  • Prioritize employment and training for those who face the most barriers to opportunity, prioritizing strategies and funding that promote racial equity.
  • Work with regional employers to understand and prepare for current and future workforce needs.
  • Expand benefits and wraparound supports to increase access to education resources.

Continued success of the region’s economy relies on a trained and talented workforce. The region has a strong network of education and training institutions that produce world-class talent. However, the regional economy has a demand for talent that outstrips the region’s capacity to produce that talent. The central Puget Sound region is among the most educated regions in the nation with 42% of residents holding a bachelor’s degree or higher. However, each year the region imports highly trained workers from around the world to fill open positions. Even during the COVID-19 recession, regional employers struggled to find workers for high demand jobs, constraining opportunities for these regional sectors to expand and compete.

Recessions and recoveries add new challenges to the demand and supply of workers. Some of the jobs lost during a recession don’t come back, with later job gains in other types of work. These occupational shifts can leave trained workers with fewer employment opportunities, and employers challenged with filling open positions. Regional workforce development programs are challenged with meeting the needs of local employers as well as working to supplement the training and education of dislocated workers.

Challenges and Opportunities

The region has identified the following key issues, opportunities, and challenges in sustaining the region’s economy:

Workforce gaps exists in high demand occupations and industry sectors

Each industry faces different challenges in meeting demand for workers, and a lack of qualified candidates has resulted in unfilled jobs because of skills gaps.

A network of workforce development organizations to meet the needs of the region’s workers

Government, local employers, training providers, educational institutions, service and advocacy groups, and other local organizations work to make sure the regional workforce system succeeds in strengthening the talent pool, expanding economic opportunity, and serving displaced workers.

(New/Expanded) COVID-19 related recession is accelerating employment shifts

Economic recessions and recoveries accelerate shifts in employment trends, increasing the need to identify and prepare for future workforce needs.

Strategic Response

The region has identified the following strategic focus areas for addressing identified challenges and opportunities:

Coordinate programs in education and training to address workforce gaps and advance economic opportunity

The region should support the development and expansion of education and workforce training programs that target the needs of regional employers, as well as working to improve equitable outcomes for those that the workforce systems serve.

Identified near-term actions:

  • Help students, beginning in elementary school, develop better awareness of the careers that will be available, inspiring them to think about their futures, the skills necessary for the jobs that interest them, and the pathways to attaining those skills.
  • Compile and track regionwide data on occupations and skills needed across key industry sectors to develop local workforce for current and future jobs.
  • Expand investment in current programs to help bridge expected workforce gaps to better fill job openings in the state and provide meaningful careers to the state’s residents, including underserved communities.
  • Expand efforts to equitably recruit potential students into workforce training programs.
  • Embed racial equity goals in workforce development plans and programs and develop strategies to achieve these goals.
  • Prioritize employment and training for those who face the most barriers to opportunity, prioritizing strategies and funding that promote racial equity.
  • Work with regional employers to understand and prepare for current and future workforce needs.
  • Expand benefits and wraparound supports to increase access to education resources.