Well, what a first day in Seattle. It was great to have the company of Jenna, from British Council, USA and Chris, British Council Wales. We received a warm welcome from all we met, who were so pleased to see us, and proud to share their successes and challenges. We have learnt so much about Seattle, King County and the education system in the USA.
Many thanks especially to Seattle College, The Office for Economic Development, Ada’s Software Development Academy, Amazon and the Washington Round table.
Seattle, has several claims to fame; it re-invented the coffee break (Starbucks), developed the personal computer (Microsoft), and connected the world through air travel, (Boeing).
Seattle is also home to globally recognised companies, such as Starbucks, Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon, Costco and Expedia. These companies are used to attract other companies and as a hub for record levels of innovation and research. King County/Seattle was Bloomberg’s – most innovative state in the USA in 2013. Seattle has developed industry clusters such as aerospace, IT, life sciences, maritime, finance and clean technology. These clusters have been key to developing emerging industries such as biomedical devices, big data/cloud and space exploration! Seattle is committed to being ‘ahead’ of the curve.
Equally, as important in attracting industry and ‘talent’, is the quality of life, especially the outdoor activities and cultural activities.
I think these are two areas which Wales could look to replicate. That is greater focus on clusters, through innovation, eg, let’s get going with the proposed lagoons! Also, do we promote Wales, well enough as a great place to play, live and work?
Seattle growth has been exponential, for a city on the periphery of the USA, again, a possible parallel with Wales. Seattle was in deep recession, a decade ago, things needed to change. Seattle had been too reliant on having the ‘luck of the two Bills’, Boeing and Gates. Political and business leaders have focussed on developing innovation and creativity as a central feature of the DNA of the city. A hugely, positive, ‘can-do’ attitude prevails. The result – massive jobs growth and incomes way above the USA or UK averages.
One of the impressive planning tools, we saw, was the research into the future labour market needs of the local economy. This was available to everyone via websites and reports, sponsored by business support organisations. Data was available down to specific occupational areas.
A fascinating report, examined, Washington state’s five year jobs outlook, to shine a spotlight on the jobs that will be available. They found there will be 740,000 new jobs, three times the national average. These new jobs will be jobs that will need qualifications, equivalent to levels 3,4 and 5 in the UK. The report identified a ‘leaky pipeline’ (like Wales) which produces skills gaps, as people drop out of the system, some become Neet, thousands drop out from 16-18, while thousands more do not achieve credentials/qualifications at the appropriate level.
The challenge – only 31% of local, high school students have qualifications at the required levels. The message from the report is that less than a third of young people are ready to progress to these jobs. Scary, too many jobs, not enough people with the skills!
Again, this is useful to contrast with the challenges in Wales, to ensure our young people have the skills required by the new industries. Basic skills and Stem seem to be a worldwide themes.
As well, as publicly funded colleges, Seattle has a large number of Boot Camps, set up to provide short, sharp, training courses, focused on employee needs, such as software and coding. We visited an inspiring, centre for disadvantaged women, who provided tuition free, one year, intensive courses in coding. Ada’s has great support from software companies who provide placements and job opportunities.
Some of the more bizarre events, included, having dinner with a stuffed Cougar overlooking us. Thunder snow. The wacky culture of Amazon, which included, the opportunity to bring your dog to work, while two of the group, had to contact the USA medical services, a doctor and a dentist. They were crying on their return, not because of the pain, but because of the damage to their pocket.