Complaints about the dearth of students graduating from high school with adequate math and science skills have been voiced so loudly, and for so long, that they threaten to fade into background noise.
But the need is real, urgent and has implications that anyone can appreciate. To wit:
Based on Washington employment data, there were 25,000 jobs that went unfilled here last year — most in computer science, engineering and health care — because companies couldn’t find workers with the requisite skills. By 2017, that gap is projected to balloon to 50,000 job vacancies, according to a report from the Boston Consulting Group and Washington Roundtable.
Here’s the bottom line: Filling those jobs could net Washington an extra $720 million in state taxes each year, and save $350 million in onetime unemployment payouts. That’s real money.
The Washington Roundtable report, “Great Jobs Within Our Reach,” published last spring, was intended as a clarion call to educators and policymakers. It noted that if just 5 percent more public school graduates pursued computer science or engineering degrees, the pool of qualified employees here would increase by 3,000 annually.
On this front there are bright spots, schools taking active — and often very creative — approaches toward getting more students interested in math- and science-related subjects (commonly referred to as STEM, which stands for science, technology, engineering and math). Education Lab found one in Eastern Washington where 100 percent of students are low-income, yet hundreds take engineering design, aerospace and biology courses.
At the same time, the school’s graduation rates have climbed above 90 percent. Curious? Stay tuned for our story in mid-June.