Leaders across California call for confronting workforce skills gap

580 200 Ed Coghlan

The call to better prepare California’s workforce echoed in both northern and southern California on Tuesday.

Up north, the Sacramento Capital Region Workforce Plan was unveiled. Sponsored by JPMorgan Chase and Co. as part of its national New Skills at Work Initiative, the project identified many areas where employers are confronting major skills gaps, which present opportunities for workers to gain new skills and career pathways.

The importance of building a stronger workforce to compete globally was the topic of this commentary by Valley Vision CEO Bill Mueller and Yuba Community College District Chancellor Doug Houston. The two leaders emphasized that closing the skills gap is key to preparing workers for the jobs of the 21st century.

The California Economic Summit issued a challenge this year in its 2016 Roadmap to Shared Prosperity: train one million more middle-skill workers in California. With wages stagnating and income inequality rising—and millions of Californians struggling to make ends meet in low-wage jobs—industries from health care to manufacturing are still struggling to find skilled workers. The Summit has set a goal of closing this looming “skills gap” by supporting the formation of regional civic organizations that can align the state’s expansive training and education programs with the needs of employers.

Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Tracy Hernandez, the founding CEO of Los Angeles County Federation (BizFed), was saying much the same thing.

“There is a major skills gap between current worker skills and what is needed by employers,” said Hernandez. “Too many people, particularly young workers are being left out economic prosperity because there are too few job training programs.”

BizFed released the results of its own survey of L.A. County employers today who believe 2016 will be a good year, but are guarded about new hiring.

About two-thirds of respondents (64 percent) expect business conditions will be either significantly or slightly better than 2015, the survey results indicated. But fewer than half (41 percent) plan to hire this year, and an additional 41 percent of respondents anticipated “no significant change” in employment outlook for 2016.

“These findings suggest that growth in our local economy over the last few years has buoyed the spirits of local employers,” Hernandez added. “However, it appears general optimism isn’t translating evenly into hiring people. Rather, employers are choosing a more cost certain investment in technology and equipment.”

The California Legislature is considering investing $200 million for the Strong Workforce Program in the state budget, which must be approved by June 15. The idea behind the program is to increase investment in career technical education programs across the state’s regional economies and industry clusters.

The money will allow community colleges to expand access to career technical education courses and programs, while evolving regional coordination.

As Steve Westly and Jack Scott recently wrote, the California job market is moving fast. Skilled jobs that didn’t exist ten years ago, like mobile app developer, social media manager or data science analyst, are hot items today. And getting people ready for those and for other job classifications that are yet to be invented means doing workforce training better than we have in the past.


Ed Coghlan

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