Skills gap set to grow in California’s agricultural regions

150 150 Matthew Grant Anson

(photo credit: Diego Sevilla Ruiz)

Known as the breadbasket of the country, California backs up that title with some impressive numbers: More than half of all fruits, nuts, and vegetables consumed in the United States are grown in California.

So says a new study from the Milken Institute called “Local Harvest: Developing the Central Valley Workforce for California’s Future Agriculture.” But that’s not all the study says. Immediately after getting through the topsoil of positivity made of statistics associated with agriculture in California today, authors Kevin Klowden and Priscilla Hamilton unearth some other numbers that provide a troubling backdrop for the future of the Golden State’s food production dominance.

“While increasing demand for California-grown foods holds promise for the state’s economic future, the picture for particular producers is likely to change considerably,” the study says while detailing the move from small family farms being replaced by larger operations whose profit margins are technology based. “These sophisticated operations require a skilled workforce – but there are concerns about whether enough of the right kind of workers will be available and ready to seize this opportunity.”

To put it bluntly, as California’s agriculture continues to undergo a technological revolution in agriculture production, the need for skilled laborers only grows. According to the Milken Institute, California is on the verge of a skills gap.

“The mix of industries in the region continues to diversify and shift toward more skilled occupations, particularly in sectors that support agriculture,” the study says. “Larger agricultural operations are supported by a greater range of firms such as irrigation pesticide, and food processing companies. Most processes at these companies are technologically advanced, requiring workers with more education and higher skill levels than most in the region possess.”

It’s a problem on the horizon that without action by California is assured to happen. The Milken Institute has key recommendations to prevent this, including identifying key areas of workforce need, increasing cooperation and engaging students, expanding successful regional efforts to connect education and training to employer need, and identifying and developing public-private partnerships.

The report highlights why California must adapt economic development policy to regional economies, in this case tailoring policy to the Central Valley in a way that will make targeted investments in education and training that prepares people for high-priority jobs and careers in the major sectors of California’s regional economies. It’s one of the major goals of the California Economic Summit and one of the ways that state can keep growing jobs and those all-important crops. 


Matthew Grant Anson

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