Patty in the News

Federal lawmakers have introduced a new bill in Congress that would give federal grants to states to put toward linking up students with training for specific industries in need of skilled workers.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass., sponsored the bill, called "The Providing Innovation to 21st Century Careers Act," that would help pay to provide student training.

Some of the industries that would benefit would be aerospace, health care, construction and energy. Murray said on a media conference call Wednesday that the idea for the bill came from her discussions with employers around the state of Washington.

"There is a lot of work that needs to be done to get our economy back on track," Murray said.

Hobart Machined Products Inc. in Hobart is one such business that is having trouble finding workers to fill openings. Hobart supplies aerospace parts and hardware.

Rosemary Brester, CEO of Hobart, said her business needs "hands on" workers who can do electronic assemblies and quality dimensional inspections. The company has found that such unique technical skills are hard to find among locals, Brester said.

Programs already exist to provide specialized training -- but there is little broader coordination, according to the Senator's staff.

Meanwhile, students are slipping through the cracks as high school dropout rates rise.

Stephanie Hoag, a 2008 graduate of Seattle's Aviation High School, was held up on Wednesday as an example of what education-business partnerships can do. Hoag is a college sophomore majoring in robotics engineering and technical writing.

She found out about Aviation High School by doing her own research. She proposed to her parents that she attend because she was getting bored with the traditional school curriculum, she said Wednesday.

"I'm good at math and science, but it's easy," she said she told her parents. "I want to know where I'm going, have the chance to get my hands dirty before I get to college."

Before high school, engineering had seemed abstract to Hoag.

"It was always just an idea for me -- oh people who are good at math and science, they become engineers and go work at Boeing," she said.

But after attending technical classes and learning from real engineers, she became intrigued and decided to enter the field.

Murray said that Hoag's story is "a great example of what we can do many times over" if businesses and education systems partner.

The proposed bill would establish a new national center with a board that represents labor, education and commerce. States would be able to apply for grants, competitively, to fund community programs.

The bill requests $912 million for its first year.

Murray says that federal taxpayer money is needed for such a system because, "in today's economy, communities, states and businesses don't have the resources for this kind of innovative work. ... Our goal is to kick start the economy by using this federal funding as seed money."

Communities would get to decide what gets funded.

Follow up: I posed two of my unanswered questions from the conference call to Murray's spokesman Matt McAlvanah.

Q. How is this different from former legislation? Aren't there already existing programs that do this?

McAlvanah: It's very unique in that it provides the federal incentive -- the "glue" -- to pull these often separate pieces together to create pathways that work for young people and provide a coherent vision for their communities. It links employers to local schools to workforce experts to community leaders and more.

Q. So does this mean that, theoretically, federal money could be used to teach aerospace skills to workers in states that would compete with Washington?

McAlvanah: It up to local communities to decide how they would use their funding. Obviously, in Washington, with Senator Murray leading the way and emphasis already being placed on building these pipelines in aerospace, Washington would be leading the way.