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“The majority of job opportunities—particularly those that will support upward mobility and a good quality of life—will be filled with workers who have postsecondary education or training.”

Washington Roundtable, (2016). WA Kids 4 WA Jobs, with the Boston Consulting Group, and Partnership for Learning.

Washington has a skills gap—a gap between the skills employers need and the skills job-seekers have. If the state can’t deliver a skilled workforce, employers will fill living-wage jobs by importing talent or relocating their business[1]. Washingtonians will be left behind.

Employers need a highly skilled workforce to remain competitive. Washington is not producing the number of credentials needed at every level, with the largest gaps among apprenticeships, certificates and associate degrees, and large gaps at the bachelor’s and graduate levels. As a result, our residents are unable to compete for the best jobs. Too many businesses find they have to recruit out of state to find applicants with the qualifications they need.[2]

Among all states, Washington ranks fourth for in-migration of workers at all training levels.[3] To enjoy the benefits of a skilled and educated workforce, Washington needs to increase educational attainment. Most workers feel they do not currently have the skills they need to get ahead in their job, and they believe they will need continuous training to advance.[4] A skills gap has long-term consequences for individuals and economies. A skilled and educated workforce is healthier and more resilient. People without a high school diploma are less likely to find a living-wage job and more likely to rely on public assistance.[5] 

A skilled and educated workforce is healthier and more resilient. From incarceration and unemployment to civic engagement, low levels of educational attainment diminish a person’s potential, and stunt economic growth.[6-12].

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Data Sources

Average Unemployment and Median Wages, Washington State Residents Aged 25-44

Washington Student Achievement Council analysis of 2012-2016 American Community Survey. Next Update: Fall 2018.

Total Projected Washington Job Openings in 2020-2025

WSAC Analysis of openings in 2017 Washington State Employment Security Department, Long-Term Employment Forecast and Education Levels based on analysis of the 2011-15 American Community Survey.  Next Update: Fall 2019.

Skill Gaps by Occupation and Education Level, Washington State Projected Job Openings Minus Estimated Supply of Workers, by Occupation Category and Education Level

WSAC, WTECB, SBCTC joint analysis of 2017 Washington ESD long-term employment forecast; Bureau of Labor Statistics Training levels; IPEDS; 2016 Census PUMS data. Next Update: Fall 2019.


[1] Between 2011 and 2015, Washington attracted a net of about 53,000 out-of-state workers with an associate degree or higher. During this time, Washington attracted nearly 7,500 workers with an associate degree, about 16,000 workers with bachelor’s degrees, and over 29,000 workers with graduate degrees from other states.

[2] Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board, (2013). Washington Employer Survey.

[3] Washington Student Achievement Council, (2017) Staff Analysis of 2011-2015 American Community Survey Data.

[4] Pew Research Center (2016) The State of American Jobs. Washington, DC.

[5] Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (forthcoming 2018). Washington State Regional Educational Needs Assessment, for the Washington Student Achievement Council.

[6] Rumberger, R. W. (2011). Dropping out: Why students drop out of high school and what can be done about it. Harvard University Press.

[7] Trostel, P., (2016). It’s Not Just the Money. The Benefits of College Education to Individuals and Society. Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center and School of Economics, University of Maine for the Lumina Foundation.

[8] DeBaun, B., Roc, M., et al(2013) Saving Future Saving Dollars, The Impact of Education on Crime Reduction and Earnings, Alliance for Excellent Education accessed at:

[9] DeBaun, B., Roc, M., et al(2013) Saving Future Saving Dollars, The Impact of Education on Crime Reduction and Earnings, Alliance for Excellent Education accessed at:

[10]A. Sum et al, The Consequences of Dropping Out, 2009

[11] Carroll, S. J., & Erkut, E. (2009). The Benefits to Taxpayers from Increases in Students' Educational Attainment (Tech.). Santa Monica, CA: The Rand Corporation.

[12] Ritter, B., (2015)   Factors Influencing High School Graduation. Issue Brief prepared for the Washington Student Achievement Council, accessed at