A recent state report says Washington schools should do more to prepare students for technical careers in computer programming, medical technology, carpentry, robotics, and other fields requiring hands-on expertise but not necessarily a four-year college degree.
In one King County district, high school students are training in a new laboratory, very similar to what you might see in a hospital or research institution.
“They are learning how to make lots of copies of a specific type of DNA,” explained Dr. Noelle Machnicki, during a recent class at Highline Public Schools' Puget Sound Skills Center.
Machnicki teaches biomedical research and global health, a new class in the district.
“This lab has all of the same equipment that you would see in a research lab at Children's Hospital or Children's Research Institute,” said Machnicki, who is also a member of the science education department at Seattle Children’s.
She says there's a misconception that to get into one of these careers, you need a costly degree, but she says some of her students, with an internship and the right training, could start earning a paycheck in a working lab once they graduate high school.
“This is a huge industry in this area, there are a lot of available jobs,” Machnicki said.
16-year-old Oddams Ros is already considering career opportunities in the field.
“I would see myself in the laboratory,” he said.
Highline Public Schools still offers training in auto body, construction, culinary arts, and manufacturing, but there are now additional programs for dental assisting, animation, and information technology.
A recent state audit emphasized a need for more robust career and technical education programs, urging schools and families to start considering these tracks in 7th or 8th grade. Many are unaware of the wide range of careers and jobs that pay well, the report notes, and Washington employers are unable to fill a lot of their mid-level-skill openings.
“This program actually really helped me a lot, choose my career path, because I didn't really know beforehand what I'm going to do,” Ros said.
The high school junior still has a few years to make up his mind, but he's already well ahead of a lot of his peers.
Washington currently has 14 skill centers, and the state says more are in the works.