California Economy: Community colleges look to close workforce skills gap

150 150 John Guenther

Taylor Guitar factory in San Diego. (Photo credit: Marcin Wichary via Flickr)

Despite California unemployment numbers remaining flat lately, we keep hearing about a labor shortage caused by a “skills gap” and employers having a hard time finding the skilled workforce to fill jobs.

Time for some better news: A group well-placed to bridge the gap is taking their effort on the road. Dubbing the initiative “Critical Conversations,” California’s Community College system is calling on the public to talk up how to better align college training programs with the needs of the state’s varied economic regions.

The Colleges’ Workforce and Economic Development team will hold 11 public forums based in different regions around the state to fine-tune their programs for labor market needs.

“These critical conversations around California are designed to get input and gain support for the vital role that California Community Colleges are playing and should continue to play in preparing our workforce for jobs that drive our regional economies,” said Vice Chancellor for Workforce and Economic Development Van Ton-Quinlivan.

For example, as an executive at a steel manufacturer in Fontana told us, there are skilled manufacturing jobs ready to be filled.

“We don’t need workers to have four-year degrees, but there’s sophistication in today’s manufacturing plants that demands workers are prepared. It’s hard to find them trained and ready to go,” said Brett Guge of California Steel Industries.

The skills gap has also widened partly because companies have been slowing their own investment in employee training and really put the brakes on it during the Great Recession.

A survey on employee benefits by the Society for Human Resource Management showed 38 percent of businesses surveyed cross-trained employees in skills not directly related to their job. This is down from 55 percent in 2008.

This is where the Community College system can step in, help bridge the gap and match their programs with market needs.

And yet, with the college system feeling the budget squeeze, it’s important more than ever to make sure their workforce training programs are right on target for the jobs that are out there now and in the future.

The next forum will cover the Santa Cruz and Monterey region and will take place at Hartnell College on September 6. You can find the complete list of forums here to take part in this conversation that is a key component of the Economic Summit Action Plan.

The current approach to workforce development in California is disjointed and needs to start supporting more partnerships between education and the clusters of industries or else the state will continue to lose companies and the jobs to other states.


John Guenther

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