By Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe and Sen. Tracey Eide
Washington is home to the longest aerospace supply chain not just in the nation, but across the world. With the recent Boeing announcement to build the new 737 Max in Renton, and Southwest Airline’s largest Boeing order ever, there is a tremendous opportunity for more local jobs.
However, many of these high-paying careers go unfilled for lack of qualified applicants. Why? Washington isn’t graduating enough mechanics, machinists and engineers. Our top priority needs to be re-investing in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education. This will position current students for future careers not only in aerospace, but biomedical and biotechnical companies across Washington.
Proposed legislation this session will enhance and expand existing STEM efforts in our schools. The focus is to boost capacity and quality in our education system to ensure our children are ready to fill these lucrative aerospace careers. By re-prioritizing education funding, we can enhance curriculum that will lead to local jobs.
Our state’s Launch Year program provides opportunities for students to graduate from high school with up to one year’s worth of college credit and training in their chosen field. A coordinated set of aerospace coursework will be added to the high school Launch Year program that will link seamlessly to community and technical colleges and then to jobs.
To give students more opportunities to gain STEM proficiencies, more specialized courses will be added to the hands-on Project Lead the Way (PLTW). Already, enhanced teacher training has increased students receiving engineering instruction from 1,300 students in 2010 to more than 3,000 in 2011. Legislation will expand current courses to be more advanced and career-focused. College credit will be available to PLTW students.
In order to teach the necessary courses, we must help our teachers acquire enhanced skills. Proposed legislation will require more rigorous math and science teacher standards by 2014. From their earliest years, students will be taught by teachers with a solid understanding of math and science.
Engineering program quality will get a boost at Washington State University and the University of Washington. At the UW, half of the students who successfully complete the prerequisites for an engineering major are turned away because of lack of capacity.
Three-fourths of the students who successfully complete the prerequisites for computer science and computer engineering majors are also turned away. By investing in our engineering programs, we can expand program capacity and graduate 775 more engineering students each year.
Creation of a Center for Aerospace Technology Innovation at UW and WSU will advance new technologies research for products in aviation, aerospace and defense. The center will support creation of innovative products and processes to increase Washington’s competitive edge and jobs.
The Center of Excellence for Careers in Education will coordinate aerospace training to meet industry’s needs. As the industry evolves, students will consistently be taking the most relevant courses. The governor’s Aerospace Office will provide overall direction to ensure Washington’s aerospace competitiveness.
By extending the current tax credit equal to 1.5 percent of aerospace product development costs to 2034, Washington will encourage further aerospace industry.
This unprecedented, collective effort will boost our aerospace, biomedical and biotechnical industries and the training needed to sustain them. We must enhance Washington’s STEM curriculum for all children to compete for these rewarding careers. This will ensure our leading industries have the skilled workforce necessary to increase their competitive edge, and jobs, for generations to come.
State Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, represents the 1st Legislative District and is chair of the state Early Learning & K-12 Committee.
State Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, represents the 30th Legislative District, sits on the committee and serves as majority floor leader in the state Senate.