California needs to train workers for middle-skill jobs, says report

08:28, October 20, 2009      

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California needs to train workers for middle-skill jobs to fill a projected 2.7 million openings after the recession, according to a report released Monday by EDGE, a coalition of groups promoting workforce development.

The report says California is facing deep, systematic economic problems. With layoffs, state budget cuts, housing foreclosures and business shutdowns dominating headlines for the past year, some may believe California's economy has gone into a permanent decline.

"California has been through economic crises before, and we have always found our way out of them. The question this time around is whether we can develop the policies to prepare our workforce for a future turnaround. To do this, we must understand what kinds of jobs will be in demand, and to begin to prepare our workforce for them now," says the report.

Despite all the changes and challenges California is experiencing today, and despite popular perception, one crucial fact will not change. That is, middle-skill jobs "represent the largest share of jobs in California -- some 49 percent -- and the largest share of future job openings," the report stresses.

These so-called middle-skill jobs are those that require more than a high school diploma but less than a bachelor's degree.

According to the report, prior to the recession, California was already experiencing shortages of middle-skill workers in crucial industries.

The report says middle-skill jobs such as computer technicians, carpenters, licensed vocational nurses and paralegals provide the backbone for the economy.

California's top 10 middle-skill growth jobs include carpenters, heavy truck drivers, auto mechanics, police officers, computer support specialists, painters, licensed vocational nurses, dental hygienists, electricians and plumbers, according to the report.

Middle-skill training, however, has largely been ignored because of the state's "barbell" philosophy which has emphasized higher education and high school diplomas, says the report.

According to the report, economists are beginning to predict the end of the recession, and California must be prepared, since 98 Fortune 500 companies make their headquarters in California and the state must ensure these and the many industries that make up California's economy can find workers with the right skills to help them stay and grow.

EDGE says in the report that middle-skill jobs will account for43 percent of the job openings between 2006 and 2016. The openings will come from both new jobs as well as the vacancies created as Baby Boomers retire.

These jobs are critical for the economy, but go largely unheralded, EDGE says in its report. "California's forgotten middle-skill jobs," the report stresses.

According to the report, 58 percent of the people who will be in the workforce in 2020 will be working adults long past high school graduation but who will still need additional education and training.

"The Skills2Compete campaign says this finding underscores the importance of investments in training and re-training the current adult workforce to closing the skill gap," says the report.

For every engineer, there's a half-dozen people who support them, and for every doctor, there's a slew of people working behind the scenes, says Agnes Balassa, western regional field director of The Workforce Alliance, which is leading the Skills2Compete campaign.

It is the second report in as many months to focus on the demand for new jobs that require some post-high school training, but not a bachelor's degree.

The report says California Community Colleges are the largest higher education system in the world, serving more than 2.9 million students each year. Community colleges play an important role in training middle-skill workers.

The report recommends that the state will keep from further cutting funding for community colleges, which provide a lot of this training.

It also recommends that there will be opportunities for public-private partnerships in which schools can team with employers to provide industry-specific skills.

"California needs a bold and broad vision to address the educational and economic challenges facing our state during these tough times and beyond. Those challenges demand a truly transformative vision that allows every worker to be a part of economic recovery: guaranteed access to up to two years of postsecondary education or training," the report says.

It stresses that every Californian must have the opportunity to earn the equivalent of up to two years of education or training past high school that leads to a vocational credential, industry certification, or one's first two years of college.

The report stresses the importance for the government and private sections to invest in policies and programs that will prepare the workforce for economic turnabout.

It says that investing in California's workers so that they fill middle-skill jobs makes sense for California and for the nation as a whole.

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