Education levels among Washington workforce falling short of labor market demand

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Washington employers will need more educated workers over the next several years than the state is projected to have.

That’s according to a new report from the Washington State Student Achievement Council, which estimates that 70% of jobs in 2023 and 72% in 2031 will require college degrees or other post-secondary credentials.

About 47% of Washington workers have a post-secondary degree. That’s higher than the national average but still not high enough, said Daryl Monear, lead author of the report.

Monear said that even in occupations where workers used to qualify with just a high school diploma, employers are increasingly requiring some form of certification beyond high school.

According to the report, jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree will grow fastest – 12.1% between last year and 2031. In the same time frame, jobs that require an associate’s degree, some college or a post-secondary certification will grow by 10.4%, and occupations where workers can qualify with a high school diploma will grow by 9.2%.

That’s the first time Monear, who’s been the associate director for policy at the council since 2011, has seen demand grow with each level of educational achievement.

“This is a structural shift in the economy, stemming from technological innovations, that results in increased relative demand for educated and skilled labor,” Monear said.

Jobs at higher risk of becoming obsolete due to artificial intelligence include those that require less education and more repetitive work, Monear said, although he cautioned that this could change, given how quickly artificial intelligence is evolving.

At the bachelor’s degree level, careers with the highest demand include software developers, registered nurses and general managers. At the associate’s degree level, it’s truck drivers, accounting clerks and K-12 teaching assistants.

The report also finds 22% of Washington workers have some college education but no degree.

Monear said he hopes policymakers will consider programs to help support students struggling to complete their higher education, like the Washington Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement program, which helps historically underrepresented students navigate a pathway to higher education in those related fields.

He said the data reflect national trends and young people questioning the value of a postsecondary credential, particularly due to high tuition at colleges and universities.

“Despite these perceptions, postsecondary education is still one of the best drivers of economic and social mobility,” the report said.

Monear said he also hopes to see lawmakers continue to support the Washington College Grant, which allows the state to offer more need-based financial aid to students than any other state in the country.

Despite the success of the grant program, the state’s students often struggle with how complex applications for both state and federal financial aid can be.

Lawmakers are trying to fix that. Due to a Washington Student Achievement Council proposal, the state passed a bill this year that will guarantee automatic financial aid for all students who qualify for food assistance.

“We’re doing what we can to make opportunities available, but this is still a challenge for us,” Monear said.

— By Grace Deng, Washington State Standard

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