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Higher Education and the Labor Market

Washington's higher education institutions benefit our state, regional, and local economies directly and indirectly by:

  • Providing a trained and educated workforce with the skills employers need.
  • Addressing the continually changing educational demands of an evolving and dynamic society.
  • Collaborating with business, industry, and government to drive innovation.
  • Conducting basic and applied research that leads to the formation of new businesses and job expansion.

Higher Education and Labor Market Alignment

An educated workforce is essential for a prosperous society. In Washington’s dynamic innovation-driven economy, nearly 70 percent of all projected job openings require at least some education beyond high school, with two-thirds requiring a postsecondary certificate, associate degree, or higher. For this reason, aligning higher education programs and outcomes with labor market opportunities is imperative.

Every two years, the Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC) produces Washington's Skilled and Educated Workforce Report, in collaboration with the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges and the Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board. The report: 

  • Provides an assessment of the current state of workforce preparation in the state.
  • Identifies fields in which academic degree completions may be failing to keep pace with employer demand.
  • Highlights occupation fields in which students may find expanding employment opportunities. 

Reskilling and Upskilling

 In response to changing jobs and workforce conditions, opportunities for reskilling and upskilling are crucial for workers’ career stability and advancement.

  • Reskilling refers to learning a new set of skills or obtaining a credential in a separate field, with the goal of transitioning to a new job or different industry.
  • Upskilling, on the other hand, refers to learning additional skills, enhancing existing abilities, or acquiring new credentials within the same occupational field, with the goal of advancing to a more responsible position and higher wages in the same line of work. 

These options are of critical importance for workers who may be unemployed or displaced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. WSAC’s recent report, Strategies for a Changing Labor Market: Reskilling and Upskilling for Career Advancement in the Post-COVID-19 Economy, highlights the importance of seamless credential pathways and presents recommendations for ensuring that workers have access to these opportunities for a sustained and equitable recovery.

The Value of Higher Education During the COVID-19 Recovery

Postsecondary education offers critical opportunities for Washington residents, particularly unemployed workers, to effectively adjust to a changing labor market. WSAC’s recently released report, Lessons on Recovery: The Value and Potential of Higher Education in Response to the COVID-19 Crisis, presents lessons from the Great Recession and observations from the growing body of evidence around students' and workers' experiences during the current crisis. The report highlights COVID-19's disproportionate impact on marginalized populations and discusses priority areas for addressing educational inequities and economic challenges exacerbated by the pandemic.

Maintaining Investment in Higher Education During a Time of Crisis outlines the crucial advantages that postsecondary education brings to the COVID-19 recovery:

  • Higher education leads to higher earnings and lower unemployment.
  • Many workers who have lost jobs need further education to reenter the labor market.
  • Investing in higher education provides avenues to economic mobility, especially important for people of color, who are being impacted disproportionately by the current crisis.