(TNS) — With its proliferation of companies in areas such as computer science and aerospace, Washington ranks among the top nationally for technology-based jobs. But this state’s school system has not kept up, and it is near the bottom in the percentage of students taking classes in STEM — an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math. The good news is that the issue has gained much attention, with some different approaches in the works. One such approach is starting to pay off. 

In 2008, the state funded the creation of the Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee, a nonprofit organization tasked with enabling apprentice programs in the aerospace field. These are joint efforts involving private companies and state and local governments.

Last week, a Yakima Herald-Republic story carried the news that three West Valley High School students — Trevor Mackey, Osborne Rogers and Bradley Ethier — have signed on to the Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee’s program. The participating companies are CubCrafters, Triumph Actuation Systems, both of Yakima, and Pexco Aerospace of Union Gap.

By all appearances, the program is extensive, challenging and rewarding. The three students will get 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training with the three companies, along with 150 hours of instruction. They will graduate from high school with up to 15 college credits and nationally recognized journeyman credentials; they also will be paid by their employers. State and federal money will pay for the instructional part of the program.

The West Valley students are among the first group of youth apprentices in the program, which aims to have 10 sites statewide by fall. Earlier this month, 14 students in Tacoma signed apprenticeship agreements.

The state’s education system is paying more attention to developing student skills that align with available jobs in the workplace. Aerospace remains a major employer in the state, and it doesn’t stop at Boeing’s massive Western Washington facilities; the combined employment by the three local companies involved in the apprenticeship is more than 600.

This apprenticeship marks a step toward the win-win situation of filling available jobs with local talent; it may be a tiny step, but it is one that takes education in the right direction.

©2017 Yakima Herald-Republic (Yakima, Wash.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.