Report: Can new technology help California’s workforce get future-ready?

580 207 Ed Coghlan

One thing is for sure about the future of work in California: It’s going to keep changing.

That’s the theme repeated at 21 economic MeetUps sponsored by the California Community Colleges and California Forward and a plethora of regional partners. The Future of Work MeetUp series (one more is scheduled for May 25 in Fresno) and Future of Work Surveys attracted more than 1,000 employers—including a good number of small business representatives, educators and workforce professionals.

The input from regional leaders on ways to better serve the millions of California workers left “stranded” by technology is collected in a new report, Can Technology Help Us Get Future-Ready?, which also includes next steps and feedback on the proposed online-only community college solution.

One challenge that's front of mind for these leaders is the impact of automation on the future workforce. 90 percent of those surveyed believe that automation will disrupt their workplace in the next five years—about half of them believe it will be a noticeable disruption.

“Many jobs will still require some level of human interaction to be successful,” said Kristie Griffin of Dignity Health in a report to be issued by the Community Colleges. “The challenge we face lies in changing the way we train people for the new high-tech workplace.”

A priority at the MeetUps—held in fourteen different California economic regions—was the issue of what is being called the “stranded worker.” They are California residents who have received some college education, but never completed a credential, or have been in the workforce and have never been to college at all. Especially at risk are those whose jobs are threatened by automation and technological innovation generally.

There are an estimated eight million of them—about a third of them under the age of 35.

“We need to remember that all of us will be stranded if we don’t keep upskilling,” added Cynthia Murray of the North Bay Leadership Group.

The MeetUps discussed solutions to the problem including Governor Brown’s proposal for a statewide online community college to serve the needs of a large population of Californians that the 114-campus community college system — the largest higher education system in the world — currently doesn’t serve.

What the Community College leaders heard was the need for an online college that does the following:

  1. A high support student experience that will attract not only qualified faculty but mentors and other support for the students—many of whom are not going to be used how to navigate technology
  2. Access to technology and equipment (and in many part of California) broadband.
  3. Has cultural adeptness—very important given that about half of the stranded workers under 35 speak Spanish as their primary language
  4. Creates curricula that have relevancy and efficiency—providing flexible scheduling and employer verified skills—a very important consideration when you learn that 83 percent of workers surveyed say that inconvenient class time keep them from enrolling in college.

The profile of the stranded worker is as diverse as California itself. When we asked employer, educators and workforce professionals across California what best describes the stranded worker, there was no single answer.

They might be immigrant adults with limited English, single parents, people with outdated skills and degrees, people with some college but no degree, and individuals with a history in the criminal justice system, and/or a veteran. In other words, it is a vast and large pool of California residents who can improve their lives if they have better job skills.

“As a young adult, the opportunity to take online courses changed my life,” said California Forward's Leah Grassini Moehle who attended most of the 21 MeetUps held across the state. “Graduating debt free is a big deal in today’s economy and this approach to online education creates an opportunity that is much more attainable for today’s working adults.”

The online community college proposal—which has generated some opposition from community college faculty—is included in the Governor's proposed state budget and approval by the Legislature to launch this idea is expected soon.

For Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley, he knows this ambitious effort is going to take hard work to effectively implement.

“This is a population that has a hard time getting to our brick-and-mortar colleges, or fitting into our traditional academic schedule,” Oakley told EdSource. “We will have a lot of work to do to reach these working age adults, and give them access to higher education and the support services they need to succeed.”

The full “Can Technology Help Us Get Future-Ready?” report can be downloaded here. And be sure to read stories about California's diverse workforce needs in our Future of Work MeetUp series.


Ed Coghlan

All stories by: Ed Coghlan