California task force approves blueprint for closing skills gap

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Nicole Rice, policy director of the California Manufacturing and Technology Association and member of the Task Force on Workforce, Job Creation, and a Strong Economy (Photo Credit: Steven Hellon)

Right after a task force working to close the skills gap approved and presented their recommendations yesterday in Sacramento, some members received Rosie the Riveter lunch boxes emblazoned with the phrase “We can do it!” That symbol of career technical education (or CTE) jobs of the past proved to be apt, as the tough work to put the recommendations to work begins.

But there was broad agreement among the task force members, who came from the public, private and nonprofit sectors, about urgency of closing the skills gap and preparing the state’s workforce for high-value jobs in need of filling.

“It’s not like there’s any disagreement about what we need to do. It’s like, ‘OK, let’s roll up our sleeves and do it,'” said Lynn Shaw, faculty member at Long Beach City College and co-chair of the Task Force on Workforce, Job Creation, and a Strong Economy. “Today was important because we came to a conclusion and career technical education is finally getting a light shined on it so that we get recognized and more people know about the good work we’re doing and we can reach out and fill that skill gap of a million jobs.”

By 2025, California will need 1 million middle-skill credentials, and 30 percent of the workforce will need to have “some college” experience to have a job in the economy, meaning some form of post-secondary education. That number represents 1.9 million people.

The task force was commissioned in 2014 by the community college system’s Board of Governors to identify ways the colleges could provide workers with skills and credentials that can match employer needs. Yesterday was their final meeting for sharpening their recommendations, after months of regional conversations, town halls, expert presentations, and public comments.

The proposals included strategies for aligning student outcome and labor market data, updating community college curricula to better match workforce needs, expanding successful “career pathway” programs, and improving coordination and funding streams across the state’s economic regions.

From the start, there was concern among California employers at the regional town halls and among the Task Force about expressing the urgency of getting these strategies right.

“There are a lot of jobs out there that need to be filled that don’t necessarily require a four-year degree and the community colleges are at the forefront to educate and prepare a workforce for those jobs,” said Allan Zaremberg, president and CEO of CalChamber and Task Force member. “That’s a need that hasn’t been met and I think this task force has the taken first step to ensure that we fill that void.”

Additionally, the recommendations emphasize the need to solve the puzzle of adequately valuing and funding California’s CTE programs. The promise of a well-paying, in-demand job at the end of a CTE program has been well documented, but the classes typically cost more to offer.

All involved felt it was important to make strong statement now to state government and education institutions about the need to elevate (and fund) California’s CTE programs to the level of regard that traditional academic programs because of that need to fill middle-skill, middle-class jobs.

“I think there are some very worthwhile recommendations about revitalizing and rebuilding career technical education in California,” John Brauer, the executive director of workforce & economic development for the California Labor Federation. “I think it gives the community colleges and hopefully the other institutions, like the Legislature and the Governor, a blueprint for that rebuilding process.”

The California Economy Summit also recently emphasized to the Task Force about the need to make sure regional employers have ways to play a larger role in the state’s workforce training system.

The task force recommendations will be presented to the Colleges’ Board of Governors in September and two town halls in San Francisco and Los Angeles will take place in between in order to share and discuss the proposals with the public. If approved, the work to implement changes could begin as early as January of next year.

“I’m bullish on the work you’ve done,” said Brice Harris, chancellor of the California Community Colleges, addressing the group. “I see no reason why we should not look back three or four or five years from now and say that we truly did change the culture around career tech education and economic workforce development in California.”

Members were hopeful about the recommendations’ prospects, pointing to the similar past work of the Colleges’ Student Success Initiative and the fact that a broad coalition like the Task Force can work together on a big problem stretching across regions.

“What really came out to me is I think we know most of the answers; it’s really having the political will to do it and really pull it off,” said Kari Decker JPMorgan Chase’s western region managing director of corporate responsibility. “Things that really stand out are how common the challenges are issues are wherever you are in the state–hearing over and over again the same challenges–but also hearing the same solutions sets from many different hats, whether you’re an employer, whether you’re from the industry association, from the community colleges.”

It’s safe to say real-life Rosie the Riveters in California could benefit from the task force recommendations. The Summit will follow the work to implement the ideas and how they could fuel California’s economy with a more competitive workforce for the 21st century.


John Guenther

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