Expanding career-connected learning for Washington students

In June, Washington STEM was selected as the implementation partner as Career Connect Washington programs grow in 2024. This statewide network of education and industry partners provide career explorations opportunities, apprenticeships, paid internships and on-the-job learning that result in industry-recognized credentials or up to a year of college credit education. Washington STEM will still provide strategic and technical support so all students—regardless of race, gender or zip code—can access on-ramps to high demand STEM careers.


Medical professional takes a patient's blood pressure
Career Connect Washington has enabled 16,000 young people under 30 to “earn and learn” in high demand fields, such as health care. Career Launch programs give students paid work experience, an industry credential, or at least a year’s worth of college credit. Photo courtesy Career Connect Washington.

Something new is happening at Career Connect Washington (CCW).

Over the last five years, this statewide initiative—which provides hands-on career connected learning — has been in “build” mode, working to align partners in education and industry to create new educational pathways for students while helping employers find skilled workers.

“The goal is this: All young people in Washington have the confidence and capability to navigate postsecondary opportunities that suit their aspirations.” -Angie Mason-Smith, Director of Career Pathways

Now, the initiative is ready to move into “sustain and grow” mode. In July 2024, CCW will shift into its permanent leadership structure as a public/private partnership between The Washington Roundtable, the Washington Student Achievement Council, the Employment Security Department, and Washington STEM, the latter as Implementation Lead overseeing the growth of programs in an equitable way.

Angie Mason-Smith, Washington STEM’s director of career pathways and member of CCW Leadership Team said, “The goal is this: All young people in Washington have the confidence and capability to navigate postsecondary opportunities that suit their aspirations.”

She added, “This means they have had opportunities early and often to explore a variety of careers, they have increased their knowledge and skill base in a specific discipline in the classroom and then test their skills though paid work experience. Building on experiences across the career connected learning continuum creates easy on-ramps to a variety of post-secondary opportunities from apprenticeship to a 1-year certificate or 2- or 4-year degrees.”

Partners in education and industry have created more than 180 Career Launch programs – including 70 new registered apprenticeships – in high demand sectors such as technology, healthcare, and advanced manufacturing. Photo courtesy Career Connect Washington.

A career-connected learning network since 2018

This vision is on its way to becoming reality thanks to Career Connected Washington. Established in 2018, CCW developed a statewide network of business, labor, education, and community leaders who provide real-world, paid work experience and industry credentials, making education more relevant and engaging.

Washington STEM has been there from the beginning, helping develop data systems for all CCW programs so they can capture and track demographics for enrollments, completions, and outcome data.

“Our goal has been to ensure career pathways are equitable for all students, regardless of race, gender or zip code. And this starts with knowing the data about who is enrolling in programs and who has access to these Career Connected Learning opportunities,” said Angie Mason-Smith.

In June, after a public process, Washington STEM was selected as the implementation partner, which means supporting the provision of technical assistance to CCW system actors, to align and grow programs, as well as continuing to lead the data and equity work.

The rest of the new leadership team includes:

  • The Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC) which coordinates across state government and reports regularly on progress to the Workforce Education Investment (WEIA) Board.
  • The Employment Security Department, which will work in partnership with WSAC to administer CCW grants.
  • The Washington Roundtable (WRT) which staffs a full-time industry engagement director. WRT is working closely with the Association for Washington Business (AWB) and Washington State Labor Council (WSLC) to ensure representation of industry voice in CCW leadership.

Mason-Smith said, “This new leadership team models the collaborative nature of this work. It is meant to mirror the design of CCW, which is built on public-private partnerships regionally all over the state.” She said the transition should feel seamless to many and a chance to re-engage for others.

Washington STEM CEO, Lynne Varner, said, “Washington STEM is excited to take on a more concrete role at the leadership table and work alongside our friends at The Washington Roundtable, Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC), and Employment Security Department, to continue to expand career-connected learning experiences for students across the state.”