For the next several years, nearly 30,000 jobs in Washington state will go unfilled due to a shortage of candidates with the necessary math and science skills.
Despite being fourth in the country in technology-based companies, Washington ranks just 46th in student participation in science and engineering graduate programs.
Seattle businessman Dean C. Allen presented these grim statistics Tuesday to the attendees at the annual meeting of New Vision, the county's economic development arm.
But Allen, CEO of McKinstry, a Seattle-based firm that designs, builds, operates and maintain buildings across the U.S., was not here to present just bad news, but the opportunity that this state -- and the Yakima Valley -- have in meeting these challenges.
Allen is chairman of the board of directors of Washington STEM, a nonprofit organization formed to improve the science, technology, engineering and math skills (hence the acronym STEM) for all students.
"Think about what you wouldn't be able to do without math and science," Allen said, explaining that even the most basic life tasks require such skills.
During his speech, Allen outlined Washington STEM's efforts since its formation 20 months ago, including awarding $4.8 million in grants to school districts and individual schools, including several in the Yakima Valley.
But Allen wanted business leaders to be aware of one of its key efforts -- the STEM network. The focus of these networks -- there are three of them statewide -- is to get private businesses and organizations engaged in improving math and science education for students in their community.
The South Central STEM Network, which includes all of Yakima and Kittitas counties and part of Klickitat and Grant counties, is in the planning stages.
Educational Service District 105 received a grant of $196,000 from the Washington STEM to develop a plan for educators, businesses and organizations to work together to improve science and math education programs.
The network will then apply for a second grant from Washington STEM that would serve as seed money to implement the plan. Down the road, the network's efforts would be funded by the businesses and organizations in the region, Allen said.
"This is a collective action strategy that gets the community aligned to a vision," he said.
New Vision CEO David McFadden also emphasized the need to improve the performance of youth in the Yakima Valley. He noted that recent census data showed that one-third of Yakima County residents are younger than 20, which means the region has a big investment in its youth.
"I feel the investments we can make in education will be the thing that sustains businesses," he said.
--Mai Hoang can be reached at 509-759-7851 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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