Washougal area employers, business leaders and educators came together for an evening of collaboration on October 25 at Washougal High School to help the WSD Career and Technical Education (CTE) Department leverage existing school programs to prepare the future workforce.
“Businesses are asking us for skilled workers,” said WSD CTE Director, Margaret Rice. “We want them to understand the current work being done and the programs offered here to prepare our students for their post-secondary education and careers. An important step in this process is to create meaningful standards that, once met, demonstrate to potential employers that this student has learned the skills needed to be successful in a specific industry.”
Keynote speaker Brock Smith, from Precision Exams and Industry Engaged, explained to the nearly 50 attendees that standards are the common language between industry and schools to help quantify the education experience for employers. “We need industry to be involved and help to set these standards to assist in shaping curriculum and prepare students to be the future workforce,” he said.
Establishing meaningful standards is where Industry Engaged, an online survey program comes into play. “Employers can use this tool to become a part of the ongoing review and revision of the standards, assessments and available certificates of more than 170 CTE offerings,” Smith explained. “This ensures that by the time a student has earned a certificate, or a stackable credential, that the knowledge and skills employers desperately need are represented and recognized by those very same employers.”
“I felt the evening was successful,” said Rice. “Creating meaningful opportunities for business and industry folks to partner with education has not been an easy endeavor, with the typical ask being more than most can give.” Rice pointed out that this industry engagement tool is not only simple to participate in, it’s easy to pass on to others. “It also provides the added bonus of a direct benefit to students by way of certifications,” she said. “It’s a win-win-win all the way around.”
According to Smith, the ability to connect industry and education with a tool to review and give input on standards will result in teachers teaching and students learning the skills employers look for when making hiring decisions. “When businesses dedicate time to review education standards in subjects their future workers are learning, it benefits more than just their business; it helps our local economy, is a tremendous help for educators and is a great advantage for students,” Smith said.
“Helping a student discover an aptitude and area of interest early in their education provides greater purpose, empowers them, builds confidence and brings meaning to learning,” Rice said. “It answers the question every student has, ‘When am I ever going to use this?’ because they apply their learning in a practical way that links to their career pathway which keeps them more engaged.”
That engagement is why research shows that CTE students graduate at a 12 percent higher rate than those students who are not CTE concentration completers (360 hours of CTE instruction in one focus CTE area of study). The positive impact of a high school graduate on a local economy is significant and measurable in increased consumer spending and an increase in contributed state and local taxes.
The evening was sponsored by current business partners. Harry White from Waddell and Reed sponsored the dinner and Heather Jones and Starbucks sponsored the coffee bar. The event was staffed with skilled WHS students from Advanced Culinary who planned, prepared and served the dinner, by Future Business Leaders of America members who welcomed guests and assisted participants with signing in. Even the artistic table centerpieces were created by Fine Arts Woodworking and Metals Craft & Production students.
“Our goal this evening was to help bring awareness to local businesses of the programs we offer as well as our work to connect classroom learning with the skills businesses are looking for in their employees,” said Rice. “Input from local industry coupled with recognition of the Career Skills certificates adds tangible value for students as it directly ties the knowledge and skills learned in the classroom to a pathway leading to high-demand jobs with local employers.”
Rice is working with her teachers to expand WSD local partnerships to gain insight into the needs of industry. One way they are doing this is through their Program Advisory Committees. These committees focus on providing direction, help to set and achieve goals, and assist in accessing resources to support students within specific program areas within the CTE Department.
“We have found that the key to developing the future workforce is connecting employers with the right students and job candidates early in their educational process,” Rice said. “We also want employers to see the validity of these certifications and give students who have met the standards they have helped develop an opportunity to show them what they know maybe through a professional interview or internship.”
To learn more or to become involved in the engagement process asked of local employers, visit https://industryengaged.org/ If you have questions, ideas or want to get involved in Washougal CTE initiatives, contact Rice at (360)954-3121