(photo credit: Matthew Grant Anson)
Ask any Californian what the number one issue facing the their home is and you’re bound to get a variety of answers. It’s safe to say, however, that many of them will point at the consistently and stubbornly high unemployment rate. Unemployment is typically thought of as a simple equation: less jobs than people who want jobs. But in many ways, California is facing a different problem. The result is still a high unemployment number, but the reasoning is flipped: not enough qualified candidates to fill existing or soon-to-exist jobs. It’s a problem that’s very real in the Golden State, and it’s about to get worse.
So says a report from the Committee for Economic Development titled “Boosting California’s Postsecondary Education.” While the unemployment percentage is usually the number trafficked back and forth when analyzing the health of the state’s economy, the authors of the report point toward a much grimmer number: 1 million.
That’s the number of college graduates California will be short compared to what workforce projections indicate will be needed.
“The report concluded that the post secondary public institutions in California – the community colleges, the CSUS, and the UCs – have been fundamental to the economic success of the country,” said Lenny Mendonca, co-chair of California Forward and a speaker, along with Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, at a Silicon Valley luncheon presented the results of the study last Friday. “But they need to be reinvested in, to increase their performance to meet the needs of the individuals to meet the job requirements of the future.”
The report spells out a far less golden future for the Golden State should results not improve in California’s colleges. “Without quantum increases in educational access, productivity, and effectiveness of the state’s postsecondary institutions, there is little likelihood that California will have the human capital to compete successfully in the global economy or assure its citizens access to economic prosperity and a middle class life.”
Hans Johnson of the Public Policy Institute of California echoed the warning earlier this week at the 2014 Speaker Series on California’s Future featuring UC President Janet Napolitano.
“Our economy demands these workers, and yet we haven’t been able to meet the growing demand,” Johnson said. “The budget problems that we face have been a part of that, but from a broader perspective, California has been deemphasizing higher education. Ten years ago, for every one general fund dollar the state spent $1.80 on college. By 2012 it was 82 cents.”
Improving results in college can’t just start at the college level though, says Mendonca. There needs to be greater coordination across the education system.
“There needs to be closer linkage to the K-12 system,” he said. “We need to improve the learning outcomes and competencies that students have, not just measure how much time they spend in their chair.”
One area where this coordination could occur is in the development of skills that contribute to jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Those jobs are expected to demand 1 million employees in California by 2020, and seven-tenths of the fastest growing occupations are in these fields.
But combine this positive with the stat from the National Assessment of Educational Progress that states 75 percent of California 8th graders are not proficient in national math standards, and it’s clear there’s a problem.
But it’s a problem that California has the tools to address: “The effectiveness of these [higher education] institutions in addressing the productivity challenge is essential to California’s economic and civic success,” the report says. “This cannot be accomplished without partners from all major sectors of California educational, civic, and economic life. Business leaders in particular must be advocates, partners and participants in supporting transformational change.”
The California Economic Summit has taken on California’s workforce issues as a critical problem in the state economy. The twin issues of a growing shortage of skilled workers in high-growth industries and growing competition from other states and countries threaten California’s economic picture. This is why our Workforce Action Team pushes for the adoption of specific policies and making targeted investments in education and training that prepare people for high-priority jobs and careers in major sectors of the state’s regional economies.
“I think it’s really critical for the economic success of California that the business and civic leaders get behind the investments in these systems,” Mendonca said. “It’s crucial to the historic success of California. It’s essential.”