California economy sputtering to life by closing job gap

150 150 Cheryl Getuiza

Silicon Valley as seen from the Sky Line trail (photo: Shootyoureyeout/Flickr)

When we talk about California’s economy, there’s some good news and there’s some bad news.

We’ll start with the good news—California’s unemployment dropped to 10.7 percent as of June—meaning more than 38,000 people found work in just one month. Employers across our state have increased hiring compared with most other states.

The bad news? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost 2 million people are still out of work.

If that’s not enough to stomach, here’s more: employers report there are still thousands of jobs that are unfilled today. According to the Robert Half Professional Employment Report, 80 percent of California employers—up 42 percent from last year—are having difficulty filling those open jobs. 

That doesn’t sound right. How are so many people unemployed and so many vacant jobs? What’s going on?  

Those same companies state their number one challenge is finding qualified people.

A new company in the Silicon Valley is hoping to close that gap.

“I spent 6 months in the unemployment lines talking to people, doing surveys, asking why they were laid off and what they were doing. Everyone I met had some kind of skills gap. Their skills weren’t matching up to the skills required for a job,” said Alexis Ringwald, co-founder of LearnUp.

“I also realized some people didn’t even realize their skills weren’t in sync with what employers were looking for, mainly because the technology’s changed, positions changed and those people weren’t investing in themselves,”

Ringwald and a friend launched LearnUp in June. The company goes to the employers, directly, and asks them what they’re looking for and what kinds of skills are needed for entry level positions.

Here’s how it works:  Someone looking for work can go to the site and loot at an employer’s opening.  The employer will list the job title and recommended training. As the prospective applicant completes the training, that person builds a skills resume that can be used for open positions.

The service is free for those looking for work. Employers pay to use the service. Already big names have signed on including Staples, GAP, Safeway and Whole Foods. 

“There was a disconnect between what skills employers were actually looking for, we go directly to the source—the company—it’s a unique approach and employers really appreciate it. In fact there are no problems finding companies to sign up, they love the concept and want to see it succeed.” said Ringwald.

Employers aren’t the only ones jumping on board, the California Community College System has also partnered up.

“Any innovation that enables the employer to engage with the education sector is very helpful. Right now it’s really difficult to communicate with an employer if they are out of state or out of the country to help align the education curriculum with what they need in order to close that skills gap,” said Van Ton-Quinlivan, the community college system’s vice chancellor for workforce and economic development.

“We’re focused on doing what matters for jobs and the economy, we have to explore all sorts of innovations in closing that skills gap.”

“California has one of the highest unemployment in the country, but we’re known for our innovative spirit so this is a unique place to push our company forward—preparing people for the jobs,” said Ringwald.

Finding a skilled workforce was an important topic discussed at the first California Economic Summit held in May. Action teams are working hard to close that gap by prioritizing workforce-training resources to support the growth of major regional industry sectors. This includes creating partnerships with local workforce investment boards, community colleges, businesses and labor to prepare people for high demand jobs.

Companies like LearnUp and the work from the Action team will help California’s economy better compete.


Cheryl Getuiza

All stories by: Cheryl Getuiza