By all accounts, Tuesday’s Legislative Day forums in Ellensburg and Cle Elum featured interesting discussions, including one focused on creating more vocational training options in Kittitas County.

That is an important topic within the county as well as society as a whole. The fact is we probably have not been doing a good job providing vocational and trade training for the past 20 or 30 years.

Part of that has been the focus on preparing students for higher education — college. That’s a worthy goal, but not all young people want to go to college. If there is a way to steer that person toward a vocation or trade, it helps both the individual and the community.

One model is to create a vocational school as part of a school district. This has been done at locations across the state, including Moses Lake.

The challenge is, of course, funding. State Sen. Judy Warnick said it’s been a while since a new vocational school was funded. That’s not surprising given how pre-occupied the state has been with finding ways to fund basic K-12 education over the past several years.

In vocational and trade training there would seem to be a meeting ground of public and private sector interests. The demographic trend cannot be denied — baby boomers are aging out of the work force, creating a wide swath of needs across the employment spectrum.

Just looking at the Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts out to 2022, the two job categories with the greatest employment needs are projected to be construction and health care and social services. Both those fields have positions that require a wide range of training. For example, one of Central Washington University’s hottest degrees over the past several years (in terms for job placement) has been construction management.

But construction also ties in to all the trades that are served through vocational and apprenticeship training. On the plus side, all these types of programs can tie together. A young person does not have to be placed in one education/training “silo.” What we need to do is create the options.

What is important is not to get too hung up on training for the “hot job” at the moment but rather to develop a system that is flexible to respond to workplace needs. Most of us likely have worked in fields that have changed dramatically over the past 20 years in terms of skills required or no longer needed.

For this to work in Kittitas County it would need to be a cooperative effort between all the school districts — Ellensburg, Kittitas, Thorp, Cle Elum-Roslyn and Easton. The county schools are part of the larger Educational Service District 105, which includes Yakima, as well as portions of Grant and Klickitat counties, but for the vocational/trade center to work it needs to be within reasonable travel distance for students.

The reason this type of project could work is it would be an investment with a return not just for the students but for our overall community.

The first step is the level of interest shown at the Legislative Day. The next step is to pursue the planning further to see what Kittitas County can do to better serve the needs of all students.

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