San Diego town hall: Region’s high-tech sectors need strong workforce

150 150 Ed Coghlan

“We need an agile and flexible workforce, we’re moving fast.”

Those are the words of panelist Adria Harris of Genentech at the Strong Workforce Town Hall Meeting held Wednesday (March 18) in San Diego.

They could have been uttered by any of the dozens of San Diego business leaders who attended the Town Hall meeting at the Illumina life science campus in San Diego. Workforce preparation is a big issue for them.

The Town Hall was the fifth and final regional session held across California. The results will be shared with the California Community College Board of Governors Task Force on Workforce, Job Creation and a Strong Economy when they meet in Sacramento on April 2.

San Diego’s economy is dynamic, driven by health care, life sciences, information and commercial technology, clean energy and advanced manufacturing. Each of those sectors was represented at the town halls. And, as in other California regions where the town halls were held, the immediate need for skilled workers is critical.

Rick Urban, who is the chief operating officer at QCMI in Santee, talked about the manufacturing sector. He recounted having to turn business away because, at the time, he didn’t have the skilled workers needed to fulfill a contract. As Urban said, “those opportunities don’t always come back.”

He also added that 20 percent of California’s growing manufacturing workforce is going to retire soon, creating real opportunities for skilled workers.

Chancellor Dr. Brice Harris has talked about the California community college system as a catalyst for the competitiveness of the state of California.

He reminded the San Diego audience of the importance of preparing a strong workforce in California. There is a need for one million middle skills jobs in the state. Many of those will require some sort of certification or license but not necessarily a four year degree. The community colleges can play a critical role in helping develop students who can meet that demand.

“Preparing our student for jobs that exist today–real life and high value jobs–is an important part of our mission,” Dr. Harris said. He also added that creating a skilled labor force not only can help existing employers in California, but can attract job to California from out-of-state companies.

Sunita Cooke, the dynamic Superintendent/President at MiraCosta College said that when it comes to the preparation of workforce, she thinks about the “three “R’s.” She’s not talking about reading, writing and arithmetic. Rather she says the three “R’s” are relationships, resources and re-thinking.

“We must engage employer and industry partners identify and redirect resources and think creatively about how we better and navigate the regulations and traditions that are part of life in a public agency,” she said. Dr. Cooke also serves as chair of the Task Force.

Community college leaders heard two themes from the audience: The importance of staying current in a fast moving and fast changing San Diego area economy and the need to help student develop more “soft skills”—or as one business leader said, “learning how you are supposed to act and interact when you are working.”

Audience members, particularly community college representatives felt that business can help solve that problem by offering more internships.

Another suggestion was that industry could incentivize their employees to come and teach at the community colleges. As one career tech dean said, “We have a hard time finding career technical education faculty who are qualified and up-to-date.”

The San Diego audience overwhelmingly voted that the most important thing community colleges and industry can do is “deepen working relationships with employers and industry to close the skills gap.”

That’s consistent with results at town halls in Fresno, Los Angeles, Sacramento and the Silicon Valley.

For Community College Vice Chancellor for Workforce Van Ton-Quinlivan, the town halls were a success.

“Business leaders in regions across California turned out and shared their ideas about ways the community colleges and business and industry can work together to strengthen the California workforce,” she said. “These town halls will help the Task Force as it moves to making its recommendations in the next several months.”


Ed Coghlan

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