Addressing Washington's skills gap through STEM

It's crucial to Washington state's economy that its K-12 system puts a laser-focus on improving education in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Washington is the nation's No. 1 STEM economy and has the highest concentration of STEM jobs in the United States. Yet, the state ranks 49th out of 50 states states in the mismatch between the skills required for available jobs and individuals with those skills. This gap is growing faster than every state but one, Delaware.

  • Washington is the second largest importer of degrees among tech states (and first, by far, as a proportion of population).
  • Washington ranks near the bottom in engineering degree production relative to engineering occupations. The same is true for computer science.
  • We lag in science and engineering degree production, not only as a function of the workforce, but also as a function of the population. This is also true for bachelor’s degrees overall.
  • We rank last among tech states in science and engineering graduate program participation.

In February 2012, the Washington State Higher Education Coordinating Board (now the Washington Student Achievement Council) released a study of the gap between workforce demand and graduate supply in our state. At the bachelor’s level, the gap is by far the greatest in Computer Science. All other fields of engineering combined are a distant second. The health professions are an even more distant third. Other STEM fields, and business, barely register.

In 2012, Microsoft launched the YouthSpark initiative to address the widening skills gap in America and Washington state (see this infographic on STEM education and nation's skills gap). The high-tech company also announced the National Talent Strategy in September 2012 to combine long-term improvements in STEM education in the United States with targeted, short-term, high-skilled immigration reforms.
In addition, other major employers are investing in STEM programs to spark interest in math and science, especially among girls. In 2009, the Washington Roundtable and Partnership for Learning teamed with the state's major employers to incubate Washington STEM, which works with schools and community organizations to ensure students are ready for college and career, particularly at-risk students.