Seattle Foundation Blog

Matching Job Needs with Local Talent

The ‘Opportunity Mirage’ report shows that our region needs to develop more homegrown workers to access job here. Seattle Region Partnership is helping close the gap between the demand for workers and the educational pathways needed to meet them.


December 18, 2018

Guest post by Lara Sepulveda-Machado, consultant for Seattle Region Partnership.

Lara Sepulveda headshotNote: Seattle Region Partnership is multi-sector initiative founded by the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, Seattle Foundation, City of Seattle and King County to streamline the way that business connects to the region’s workforce, economic and education systems, providing local residents access to middle-wage careers.

Our region is experiencing unprecedented growth. Companies struggle to find local talent for open positions. With about 100,000 annual job openings that pay family-sustaining wages (roughly $41,000/year) in the Puget Sound alone, there is a huge gap between available jobs and the number of individuals here who are qualified to fill them – and this gap is expected to grow.

This means that even if every student in public schools in our region got a meaningful credential that gave them the skills for an open job, we would only meet about one-third of demand in our region.

So, what is our region doing to develop talent and narrow this gap?

A team of University of Washington researchers, led by Dr. Jenée Myers Twitchell, Impact Director at Washington STEM, investigated the Central Puget Sound’s capacity for increasing the number of local adults who can access higher education to secure the great jobs this region offers.

The Central Puget Sound Higher Education Capacity Research Initiative authored a data-driven report, ”The Opportunity Mirage,” to analyze the education-to-workforce pipeline, and identify systemic gaps in higher education completion and job readiness. The report was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and JPMorgan Chase, in collaboration with the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and the Seattle Region Partnership. 

Regional job creation is outpacing local graduates

Regional Supply vs. Demand (annual averages, central Puget Sound)  visualization. The large blue circle represents 289,640 expected annual job openings. The small green circle represents 12,000 students from the region who could potentially complete post-secondary education in the region. Graph explaining the nursing pipeline bottle neck - of the 5,122 that receive an AA nursing degree, 1,335 flow to UW BSN and 2,029-3,787 don't have local BSN space available. The rest flow to all othe puget sound BSN. 4-year college or university students have 1,092 go to UW BSN, leading to a 2,427 total, also flowing into all other Puget Sound BSN and not having local BSN space available.

The research found that, on average, fewer than 12,000 (out of each class of about 34,000) Central Puget Sound high school graduates annually enroll at a regional institution. Even if all 34,000 completed their post-secondary education and received degrees that met the demand of entry level job opening, this would only meet 30 percent of the region’s need for employees.

Post-secondary education systems aren’t keeping up, limiting higher education options for our region’s high school graduates. Take nursing for instance:

Between 2010 and 2015, 5,122 students received an Associate of Nursing degree from a two-year college or technical school in King, Pierce or Snohomish Counties. But, at best, only 60 percent of those nursing students could access the classes necessary to earn a Bachelor of Nursing to advance their career.

Inequities are limiting career success

Pie graph showing that amongst students of color in the central Puget Sound region, 26% (of graduates) enrolled in a 2-year degree and 40% (of graduates) enrolled in a 4-year degree.Those who attend high school in an area with high poverty are less likely to earn a degree. For example, in the Tukwila School District of 3,000 students, where 72 percent are low income, only 56 percent enroll in post-secondary programs. Contrast that with the Mercer Island School District, where only three percent of students are low income and 84 percent enroll in post-secondary programs.

These findings can be used by the public and private sectors to understand the region’s current and future workforce needs. They clearly illustrate the gaps between industry need and higher education capacity in our region. Closing these gaps is the first step to ensuring this region remains competitive and local residents have opportunity to access jobs.

So... Now What?

This is everyone’s problem and we can all contribute to a solution. There are two tangible ways employers can get involved: 1) adapt recruiting practices to prioritize the regional talent pool; 2) increase partnerships with industry and education to improve local talent pools and engagement.

Additional research is needed to identify high demand job opportunities and the educational pathways to meet them, and to inform key policies and develop critical funding.

Our higher education system needs to be more effective at reducing barriers of entry to high demand fields. Institutions also need to dramatically increase the number of regional bachelor degree ‘seats,’ improving access to baccalaureate opportunities at community and technical colleges, and university satellite programs.

To learn more about the study, you can view the key findings (pdf) and access the live data. To stay up to date about Seattle Region Partnership and ways for employers to engage, please visit seattlechamber.com/srp.

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