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Career Connected Learning: What It Is and Why It Matters

An instructor at Yakima Valley Technical Skills Center (YV Tech) and one of his students explain what the Center's curriculum covers during a Washington STEM Learning Tour.

When groups within a larger community don’t share information, it doesn’t only reduce efficiency – it limits opportunity. This is the “silo effect,” and it’s long been identified as something businesses need to work beyond to achieve maximum productivity.

Nonprofit Washington STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering + Mathematics) has helped launch Career Connected Learning programs to eliminate the silo effect in science, technology, engineering and mathematics education. Uniting schools, STEM-based businesses, local governments and community impact groups, Career Connected Learning programs have transformed the way Washington students are learning.

Why connect over STEM?

STEM subjects are at the core of these collaborative networks because Washington’s future prosperity depends so heavily on related skills.

Washington’s most prevalent industries include aerospace, which depends on physics and engineering; agriculture, which is informed by earth sciences; and clean energy technology, which demands expertise in engineering, chemistry and environmental sciences. On a national scale, growth in STEM jobs over the last ten years has been three times greater than that of non-STEM jobs.

Still, Washington is 46th for participation in science and engineering graduate programs and within the state, there are 45,000 unfilled STEM jobs because applicants don’t have the required skills. That missed opportunity is what’s fueling collaboration: businesses want applicants with the skills they need, the state wants to support the economy and schools want to prepare students to succeed.

Building Connections

Washington STEM has helped to create STEM Networks to foster partnerships that serve as foundations for Career Connecting Learning opportunities. These opportunities are a continuum of awareness, exploration, preparation and work experiences that take many forms.

  • In Olympia, Evergreen State College is collaborating with the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to offer a Wetlands Monitoring Internship through which students can gain hands-on field and laboratory experience collecting and analyzing environmental data gathered from WSDOT wetland mitigation sites.
  • In Bremerton, the West Sound STEM Network, Workforce Development Council and Olympic Educational Service District 114 have built the YouthWorks Pathways to Success program, which offers job training services, career counseling and work experience opportunities to underrepresented youth.
  • Nespelem Middle School partners with local businesses to bring electric linemen, foresters and Tribal Council members into the school to present career lessons.

Breaking Down Barriers

Career Connected Learning is, at its core, about breaking down barriers to create new understandings and opportunities surrounding STEM education. Teachers aren’t the only ones with information to share, students can be contributors and learning can happen far away from a school building.

Of course, Career Connected Learning is also about breaking down barriers to social mobility. Young Washingtonians are surrounded by a thriving STEM economy, but don’t always receive the support they need to take part. Students of color, girls, rural students and students for whom English isn’t a first language especially face disparities in opportunity.

What’s next?

Expanding and maintaining STEM networks requires ongoing effort, and the upcoming Governor’s Summit on Career Connected Learning will be a huge milestone. On May 31, businesses, policymakers and education leaders will come together to launch a policy initiative and spread best practices for preparing Washington’s youth for high-demand STEM jobs.

By uniting Washington communities to help educate students in STEM fields, collective efforts are positioning them as “future ready” community members: people with the skills needed to thrive in the jobs of today and the jobs of tomorrow. People who can contribute to – and share in – the prosperity generated by Washington’s STEM industries.

To learn more about the transformative power of STEM Networks, visit

CenturyLink is a global communications hosting, cloud and IT services company committed to strengthening and improving the communities it serves. CenturyLink focuses its philanthropic and volunteer efforts on K-12 education programs that support technology-focused initiatives. Learn more about CenturyLink.

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