In future, we’ll need an even more educated workforce; let’s support higher ed today

A few things in life are givens, death and taxes being the most famous two. Here’s another given: The good jobs of tomorrow aren’t going to require less education.

That seems pretty obvious, but it’s worth pointing out that individual investments in education are still highly likely to lead to a higher standard of living. From a broader societal standpoint, we know that investing in education will pay off for our state in this competitive global environment.

More and more studies are confirming the obvious: More degree earners are needed going forward to fill the well-paying jobs. A new Harvard study looking at the role of education, skills development and infrastructure in our economy noted that businesses “often struggle to find the skilled labor” they need.

That point was made clearly to me while visiting manufacturing businesses during my gubernatorial campaign. At multiple factories, I heard from managers saying they could not find the skilled workers they needed to fill open positions. There was no shortage of people looking for work, but there was a shortage of people with the skills needed to do the job.

Writing about the Harvard study in the Everett Herald, Richard Davis of the Washington Research Council said:

“The combined effect of insufficient education and the decline of employer training contribute to a skills gap, a shortage of qualified workers for available jobs. Research conducted for the Washington Roundtable identified 50,000 unfilled positions attributable to that skills gap in our state. In business school jargon, the mismatch is ‘a classic hallmark of dysfunctional supply chains: oversupply alongside shortages,’ with some workers forced to accept positions for which they are overqualified while other jobs go unfilled because the right skills match cannot be found.”

That persistent skills gap is one more reason that the state should maintain its support for higher education. After a long decline in state support for our universities, the trend was finally reversed this budget cycle. Tuition was frozen at state universities that were used to constant cuts from state government.

The tuition freeze was the result of leaders like state Sen. Michael Baumgartner and the Majority Coalition Caucus in the state Senate who drew a line in the sand and said no to further higher ed cuts.

The risks to our universities remain, though. In the next session, legislators will be scrambling for every dollar they can to fulfill the McCleary decision. Higher ed has always been an “easy” area to cut in Olympia because tuition can be hiked to make up the difference. Given the skills gap and the importance of our universities to our economic competitiveness, it would be a shame if that same “easy” way out was taken again.
-Rob McKenna

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Rob McKenna
Rob served two terms as Washington’s Attorney General, from 2005 to 2013. He successfully argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and negotiated three of the largest consumer financial protection settlements in national history, all involving mortgage lending and servicing. He is a recognized leader in the development of consumer protections on the internet, in data protection and privacy regulation.