During an interview on Sunday’s broadcast of 60 Minutes, Apple CEO Tim Cook argued that it was an abundance of skilled workers and not cheap labor that lured Apple to locate manufacturing operations in China. Cook’s remarks underline a critical flaw in Washington State’s education system: the lack of career- and technology-focused learning opportunities for middle and high schools students. An unbalanced focus on college-prep has left many students graduating without the skills to identify and pursue viable career paths.

In Washington State, a diverse coalition is now emerging to advocate for career- and technology-focused learning opportunities for middle and high school students in Washington State. The growing coalition, led by the Washington Business Alliance, includes the League of Education Voters, the Manufacturing Industrial Council, and the Washington State Chapter of the Association for Career and Technical Education. Labor unions and groups representing people of color are expected to join the effort soon.

Apple employs over one million Chinese workers to manufacture most of its products. Cook said the Chinese possess the skills that American workers now lack. “Vocational kind of skills…[are] a focus of [the Chinese] educational system… China put an enormous focus on manufacturing,” Cook said. He contrasted this to the US, which he said “over time began to stop having as many vocational kind of skills. I mean, you can take every tool-and-die maker in the United States and probably put them in the room that we’re currently sitting in. In China, you would have to have multiple football fields.”

With a growing cluster of cloud software companies, some have declared Seattle (Washington’s most populous city) “the new center of the tech boom.” Apple is in the process of opening a 120-200 person office downtown. But there are only so many available jobs on the research, design, and development end of the supply chain. Less plentiful are computer equipment manufacturing jobs in Washington State. According to a 2013 report by the Washington Technology Industry Association, high tech manufacturing in Washington State is highly concentrated in the transportation equipment sector.

“Manufacturing industries accounted for 28% of total technology-based jobs, with aerospace and motor vehicle manufacturing being the largest single category (21% of the total).  The remaining 31,685 manufacturing jobs are divided between machinery and computer and electronics manufacturing (22,861 jobs), and petroleum refining and chemicals (8,824 jobs).”  

The Economic Impact of Technology-Based Industries in Washington State, William Beyers, WTIA, May 2014

According to the state Workforce Board’s January 2015 update on Skill Shortages in Washington, mid-level manufacturing, installation, repair, and science tech jobs face significant supply shortfalls over the next five years. From 2016 through 2021, the state’s workforce training system is projected to fall short of industry demand by over 3,000 completions per year.

Too many kids are either dropping out or graduating unprepared to move into postsecondary training and careers. Outcomes are significantly different for those who engage Career Tech learning opportunities. Career Tech programs are more engaged, graduate more often, and launch off in trajectories that lead directly to workforce credentials, degrees, and high-paying careers.

The state should pursue immediate expansion of Career Tech programs because Career Tech education is Basic Education. Inadequate supply of skilled workers is a major growth-limiting factor for businesses in this state. Companies won’t locate operations in Washington if they need to import talent from elsewhere.

Click here to get involved with the Washington Business Alliance. Together we can make an impact in our state to address the shortcomings described by Apple’s Tim Cook.

Click here to see the full video of 60 Minutes report on Apple and its CEO Tim Cook.