Invest in high-demand baccalaureate degrees, employers say

Olympia, Wash. — Washington employers want to have a say in how the state invests its money in higher education. This week, they will have that chance.

The Washington House Higher Education Committee heard from two sectors of the state’s economy on what needs to be done to better prepare graduates for the job market. Throughout the week, the committee will hear such presentations from seven different industries.

Tuesday’s panels, from the computer science and aerospace industries, focused on the need for better-trained, more-employable graduates in today’s economy.

A presentation by the Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board showed that employers today aren’t looking for master degrees, but rather primarily for graduates with associate and technical degrees and baccalaureate degrees.

“It is very important the level of education a person obtains, but it’s also important the field they gain that in,” Board Director Bryan Wilson said.

Alex Pietsch, director of the Governor’s Office of Aerospace, said the industry is seeing a large need for workers at all levels of production and management.

“There is a strong foothold and if we are able to meet these companies needs … we really have an opportunity to be a world leader in these sectors,” Pietsch said.

General Plastics, an aerospace manufacturing company in the region, is one such employer. Eric Hahn, vice president of the company, said they are currently in a position where they have to interview around 100 candidates just to find one eligible employee. Hahn said part of this problem is the fact that most of these candidates can’t pass a seventh-grade math test.

“The point being that in order for us to make these growths, for us to do that we need trained people,” Hahn said. “This is not a charity, this is not a handout to these people; this is an investment in our country.”

The employers and the board both emphasized that the state needs to invest in improving basic degrees before expanding into the master and graduate program.

According to a report done by the board, there will be under 20,000 job openings at the graduate level per year in 2014-2019. At the lower- to mid-level degrees, however, there is predicted to be around 80,000 job openings per year.
Hank Levy, chair of the UW Computer Science Department, said the main problem his program is facing in terms of producing graduates is capacity.

“We are currently turning away over 300 applications a year at the undergraduate level,” Levy said. “At the graduate level we are only taking about 1 in 10 graduates that apply.”

This issue pervades the computer science field, said Taylor Washburn, dean of the Northeastern University Seattle graduate campus.

Both the aerospace and computer science panel emphasized the importance of producing employable graduates capable of basic workplace skills.

“If you don’t have a high quality education system producing high quality degrees, you don’t have an education system,” Committee Chair Larry Seaquist said.

The board will hear similar testimonies from panels from the energy, agriculture and viticulture, and biotech industries at Wednesday’s hearing. On Thursday, the health care and maritime industries will give their presentations.

Reach News Editor Jillian Stampher at news@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @JillianStampher

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