In Economic Mobility, Equity, Quality Jobs

In the Portland-Southwest Washington region, women make 81.2% of what men make. Annually, this accounts for an earning disparity of $11,740 between men and women. Despite representing 58.4% of the U.S. workforce, women hold only 35% of senior leadership positions. Undoubtedly, opportunities for career advancement for women have dramatically increased. However, women’s wages and vertical mobility in the workplace reveals issues that cannot be ignored.

In Southwest Washington, women dramatically trail men in earnings. In Clark County, men make an average of $6,279 per month, while women make $4,371, according to Washington’s Employment Security Department. In Cowlitz County, men make an average of $5,907 per month while women make $3,785.

In the wake of the pandemic, the region’s lack of childcare is an obstacle to employment for many women. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, childcare capacity across the region has decreased dramatically – declining 27% in Clark County and 39% in Cowlitz County.

For Workforce Southwest Washington (WSW), the disparities in earnings and upward mobility are an opportunity to invest in training and career services that support women in the workforce. WSW invests in WorkSource for adult job seekers, and Next, for jobseekers 16 – 24 years of age. Both WorkSource and Next provide career, educational and support services for job seekers to jumpstart or advance their careers. In 2021, 59% of participants of the Southwest Washington workforce system were women, demonstrating the demand for opportunity.

Top Trainings & Employment for Women in Southwest Washington (July 2021 – June 2022)

Registered Nurse (RN)

Dental Assistants

Medical Assistants

Nursing Assistants

Top Occupations Women are placed in through the Workforce System in Southwest Washington (July 2021 – June 2022)

Office/Admin Support


Customer service Representatives

Receptionist/Information Clerks

Registered Nurse

Nursing Assistant

In addition, WSW invests in incumbent worker trainings for local businesses to implement a career path and training strategy that supports the retention and advancement of existing workers. In the past few years, WSW has added requirements that 20% or more of workers receiving the training must be women, people of color, people with disabilities, veterans, LGBTQ+ and/or other people from historically-excluded communities. WSW continues to set its sights on a future in which all workers have equal opportunity to quality careers and advancement opportunities that provide the means to be self-sufficient.

WorkSource – Advancing careers through training opportunities

When Sarah first came into WorkSource, she was recently unemployed due to an injury that made her unable to return to her manufacturing job. She desired to find a career path that led to self-sufficiency and was accommodating. She also wanted to find ways to upskill and grow in her career. Sarah heard about WorkSource and attended an Employment & Training orientation.

Once connected with an Employment Specialist, Sarah shared that becoming a truck driver was something she’s always wanted to do! Due to family members in the industry, Sarah had always respected the industry. Sarah worked with a WorkSource Employment Specialist towards becoming job ready and applied for a scholarship. She was approved and began Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) training shortly after. Sarah was provided support services to help her with her Department of Transportation physical screening and safety clothing to attend and complete training. Sarah was successful in the training and returned to the workforce into a high-demand industry.

While the workforce system supports jobseekers on their journey to employment, companies can do their part by creating clear, equitable and accessible training and advancement opportunities that provide vital options for women to advance their careers. Through these efforts, businesses will enhance workplace equity and improve their job quality.

As the past few years have shown, job quality is a key aspect of recruiting and retaining top talent in the region. During the pandemic, businesses struggled to fill jobs as job seekers were emboldened to demand wages, benefits and safety that all workers deserve. In the wake of the pandemic, businesses must assess their job quality to meet expectations of today’s workforce.

To support and promote quality jobs in our region, WSW and its partners in the Columbia-Willamette Workforce Collaborative (CWWC) – Clackamas Workforce Partnership and Worksystems – launched the Quality Jobs Initiative to promote a healthy regional economy for businesses and individuals.

The Quality Jobs Framework explores six strategies to help businesses and organizations advance quality jobs, including Training and Advancement Opportunities, Self-Sufficiency Wages, Safe Working Conditions/Worker Engagement, Predictable Hours, Comprehensive Benefits, and Accessible Hiring and Onboarding Practices.

The Training and Advancement Opportunities Quality Jobs Guide covers strategies and indicators for businesses and organizations who wish to establish or bolster their training and advancement pathways. The guide dives into three strategies for businesses to increase job quality through training and advancement and another strategy to help economic and workforce development organizations support regional training and advancement opportunities.

Quality Job Strategies for Training and Advancement Opportunities for Businesses

  1. Build clear internal pathways and opportunities to support career progression.
  2. Create and expand on-the-job, professional development, and incumbent worker training opportunities to support advancement and cross training.
  3. Create or update tuition assistance programs.

Build internal career pathways and opportunities for existing employees

Creating and promoting internal career pathways empowers employees to develop their skills and seek training and education. Employers should consider what progress looks like within their organization based on the needs of the company, types of positions available, and specific job duties for those positions. Businesses can work to develop career roadmaps for their employees.

Businesses should also be transparent with employees about the skills and competencies they need to reach certain goals and positions within the company. A key piece of this is wage transparency, so employees know what they need to accomplish to meet certain wage thresholds. Careers NW has a comprehensive tool where businesses and job seekers can explore wage, education and training data in sectors and occupations.  WSW’s Business Services team can provide regional wage data to ensure your salaries are competitive.

Create and expand on-the-job, professional development and incumbent worker training opportunities to support advancement and cross training

Employers will benefit from their employees’ new skills, improve employee engagement and retention, and grow talent pipelines from within their company. Trainings give women and other underserved individuals opportunities to advance.

Create or update tuition assistance programs

Tuition assistance is a benefit that covers costs associated with an employee’s continuing education. Tuition assistance invests in workers to help them build general and specialized skills to improve their performance and contribute to their professional growth.

The Quality Job Guide on Training and Advancement Opportunities dives into details on each strategy and provides metrics to help your business evaluate your progress. Additional resources are available in the guide. If you would like  assistance or guidance implementing quality job strategies in your workplace, please fill out the business request form and our Business Services team will get in touch!

How Workforce Southwest Washington has improved internal Training and Advancement Opportunities

In 2021, WSW conducted a salary audit using the Nonprofit Salary Survey, which shows the competitive pay for nonprofits by region. With cost of living increasing significantly during COVID, WSW wanted to ensure staff were paid self-sufficient wages. In 2022, WSW leadership adjusted employee salaries to align with the pay of other nonprofits in Southwest Washington. WSW conducts the salary survey every two years. Salaries are reviewed annually and adjusted based on regional cost of living.

Offering competitive wages and providing wage transparency acts as a two-pronged retention strategy. Employees are offered compensation that provides self-sufficiency and are empowered to understand the opportunities for growth in their role and in the company.

In 2022, WSW revised its process for professional development to promote clarity and increase learning opportunities for employees.

WSW invests in company-wide trainings for all staff. The most recent training was Building a Community of Equity through Washington State University Vancouver. The trainings are aligned with the needs of employees and are based on the results of the employee survey, which takes place biannually.

Other teamwide opportunities include monthly Lunch and Learns and Teambuilding events. Lunch and Learns can be on a variety of topics and have included employee presentations on their area of expertise, external partners sharing information on their businesses and new processes to implement in the workplace.

Employees can also request funding to participate in other professional development opportunities, such as conference or classes. These funds are available through a transparent request process and awarded on a first come first served basis. After taking part in a professional development opportunity, employees are expected to present to the WSW team in a lunch and learn.

All employees of WSW complete an annual staff evaluation, which outline their professional and personal goals for growth. The staff evaluation helps employees evaluate the skills they wish to build and the trajectory of their career with WSW.

Evaluating processes for training and advancement has helped WSW to create equitable access to professional development opportunities and encourage employees to reach their full potential.

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