ICT jobs in California ripe for the picking

150 150 Matthew Grant Anson

(photo credit: Mike Poresky)

Mike Rowe knows a thing or two about skilled work. For a decade he’s jumped headfirst into all sorts of skill-heavy modes of employment for Dirty Jobs, and his time embracing the dirty has resulted in some economic wisdom.

“The thing I hear over and over and over and over again from small business owners and entrepreneurs is how hard it is to find workers with the combination of the right skills and willingness to work their butts off,” he told Inside Edition back in August.

Although Rowe was talking about skilled workers like mechanics and plumbers, this quote rings just as true in the field of Information Communication Technology (ICT). The rapid growth of the ICT field is the California economy’s best kept secret, but the California Workforce Association and the California Workforce Investment Board are looking to change that.

The first step in getting the word out was an October 30th webinar, which was the first of many bringing together economic big-shots from across the state to talk about what ICT is and how the skills involved will be the lifeblood of the California economy for years to come.

“We’re living in a changed world today,” said James Jones, executive director of the Mid-Pacific ICT Center. “Twentieth century economies were dominated by transportation and energy and manufacturing, while 21st century economies are increasingly dominated by information knowledge and innovation. ICT’s a paradigm shift that a lot of people have not yet gotten their heads around.”

First, a bit of clarification: The difference between ICT and IT is virtually negligible. They are mostly interchangeable, but while IT is a somewhat generic term, ICT stresses “the role of unified communications and the integration of telecommunications.” What’s important, however, is that these jobs in computers, software, and programming are exploding in a way that benefits the economy at large.

“ICT workers were responsible for 75 percent of US productivity growth from 1995 to 2002, and its workers contribute three to five times more productivity than non-ITC workers,” Jones said. “From 2001 to 2011, ICT jobs increased by 22.2 percent. [The sector] grew 95 times faster than employment as a whole, and its workers earn 74 percent more than the average worker.”

And therein lies the problem: the jobs are there, but there aren’t enough bodies to fill them. Despite the fact that each ICT job creates 4.3 more in the economy and ICT workers earn double the median wage in California, over half the companies in California report difficulty finding appropriately skilled ICT workers.

“That’s completely messed up in this period of high unemployment,” Jones said. “The situation is going to get worse because a large proportion of the existing ITC workforce is getting ready to retire.” Translation: it’s already hard to fill these jobs now, and the situation for employers is about to get worse. If people were properly trained, the unemployment rate would likely plummet in the coming years at the hands of the ICT sector alone.

So, how well is California getting its citizens trained for a chance at one of these jobs? The answer is troubling. San Francisco and the Bay Area at large may be the fastest growing ICT job market in the US, but 50 percent of the high schools there do not offer a single ICT-related class option for students.

Additionally, what is offered in California is far from standardized, as what is considered compulsory teaching in one program may not be in another. Jones stressed that 3 out 4 employers say a common training framework for ICT education is paramount.

Tim Rainey, executive director of the California Workforce Investment board, put the litany of data and figures into some context. “We’re in a retraining economy,” he said. “To be successful today, people need to have broad-based and employable skills. It no longer works to train people for a specific job or occupation.”

It’s simple wisdom – diversify and thrive – but that’s what makes it powerful. The California Economic Summit has made creating the next-generation workforce one of its seven Signature Initiatives. The Workforce Action Team will emphasize careers in high-demand fields through CTE partnerships and STEM career pathways.

Moving California forward isn’t just about creating new industries, but taking advantage of the opportunities in ones that are already here. That’s why California Forward, in partnership with the California Stewardship Network, is going all in on the California Economic Summit. Just one week away (!), the Summit will set an economic path down which California can move fluidly and confidently. 


Matthew Grant Anson

All stories by: Matthew Grant Anson