Preparing youth with skills and options is crucial for business

Educating and training our young adults – the workforce of the future – is vital to our regional economy

Educating and training our young adults – the workforce of the future – is vital to our regional economy.

In 2017-2019, Workforce Southwest Washington (WSW) will invest more than $3.75 million in youth workforce education programs, including degree completion, career exploration, work-based learning and subsidized employment.

Programs funded through WSW help young adults attain educational goals, prepare for college or post-secondary training and entry into the workforce. These programs help to increase their competitiveness for in-demand careers while at the same time providing businesses with qualified, local employees.

In 2017, the CREDC Board of Directors voted to adopt Clark County’s Comprehensive Economic Development Plan, which identified three key goals – Expand the Existing Business Base, Support People and Create Place – to be implemented over the next five years. The plan also established a 20-year vision for Clark County: to be recognized as one of the most inclusive, healthy and amenity-rich communities in the country. Our goal is that with a continued focus on growing a diverse base of community-minded employers, talent (both inside and outside of the region) see greater opportunity in Clark County than anywhere else in the country.

Our community’s people are a foundational component of CREDC’s vision for the future of Clark County, it is why Support People was identified as one of the three key pillars in the strategy to accelerate economic growth in the region, which was developed by CREDC in collaboration with WSW and other regional workforce and education partners. To stay at the forefront of growth and innovation, it is vital that we prepare young people of Clark County with the right set of skills and career exploration opportunities necessary to enter the workforce.

Clark County has a rich history and continues to be a statewide leader in aligning education initiatives to current and future workforce needs of our area employers. With foundational leadership rooted in our K-20 system, CREDC and WSW have been collaborating with the regional education system for many years to ensure our future generations receive the education and training necessary to prepare them for a globally-competitive employment environment.

Highlighting this partnership and co-investment by both the public and private sectors is the Southwest Washington STEM Network, which has been integral in the development of countywide education programming and curriculum that exposes youth across our K-12 system to contemporary work environments, technologies and industry standards. Leading Career-Connected Learning and Career Pathways initiatives, the STEM Network connects educators and employers to educate and prepare students for jobs that will put them at the forefront as they graduate and either enter the workforce, continue on to a two- or four-year degree or go into a career and technical education pathway.

For young adults who are disconnected from the K-12 system and want to transition to work or further education, WSW’s new youth career center, NEXT, is a critical piece of our local strategy. At NEXT, which opened in August, young adults ages 16 to 24 can receive the support and training they need to reach their educational goals, learn about career pathways and explore employment opportunities. These youth in transition from traditional education to either the workforce or further education or training represent some of the greatest opportunities and challenges for growing and strengthening our local workforce. Not all youth are prepared to make this transition; those who struggle are a focus and priority for workforce development efforts.

The focus on education pathways could not be accomplished without strong and deeply-rooted partnerships between economic development and workforce development. With a diverse range of programs, WSW is a critical component of competitive and impactful economic development efforts. From launching the county’s first-ever centralized youth career center, NEXT, to supporting youth programming focused on summer employment to foundational programs supporting career exploration, work experience, career exposure, internships and career exploration – including Manufacturing Day, the annual Youth Employment Summit and Vancouver Tech Tours – WSW’s investments in programs that focus on supporting people is key to ensuring the success of CREDC’s Comprehensive Economic Development Plan.

We all play a role in developing a robust and competitive workforce to support the economic growth of our region. We encourage entrepreneurs and business professionals to get engaged and be part of the county-wide efforts to connect youth – from K-12 to higher ed – with career awareness and hands-on learning experiences as they explore the possibilities for their future. You play a pivotal role in developing a talented workforce. Get connected and help young people sharpen the skills they are gaining in the classroom with on-the-job experiences.

Kevin Perkey, CEO of Workforce Southwest Washington can be reached at kperkey@workforcesw.org or 360-567-1066.

Max Ault, Interim President of CREDC can be reached at mault@credc.org or 360-567-1055.

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