Tom Abate, San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 20, 2009 -- California must improve adult education and community college programs to help laid-off workers retrain for technical positions that will open up in the next several years due mainly to retirements, according to a report issued Monday.
The study, titled "California's Forgotten Middle-Skill Jobs," [see below] uses federal data to look at current and projected employment in the state.
It divides jobs into three categories: 25 percent that can be done with a high-school diploma, 35 percent that require a bachelor's degree or higher, and 40 percent that require a post-high-school certificate or two-year degree.
Issued by a coalition including labor and business interests, the report looks at what it will take to retrain adults already in the workforce for that 40 percent of middle-skills occupations such as licensed vocational nursing, heating and air-conditioning installation, and paralegal work.
Although the report comes at a time when high unemployment has created a glut of workers, it anticipates that when the economy recovers in a few years, employers could be hobbled by a shortage of skilled technicians.
Any fix to the current unemployment crisis or the long-term skills shortage would probably have to include more money for community colleges and adult education programs that have been cut because of the state's budget crisis, but the authors say part of the solution involves changing how education is delivered.
"Adults who have been laid off because their industry has gone away can't wait two years to get a degree or certificate," said Virginia Hamilton, executive director of the California Workforce Association, a group involved in retraining.
Hamilton said night or weekend courses that allow adults to work or job hunt while they add skills could help.
Pamela Kan, president of a manufacturing company in Pittsburg, said the report urges a renewed emphasis on the middle layer of California's education system, between the K-12 and the state's four-year colleges and universities.
"We have this very strong culture in this state of four-year college or nothing after high school," said Kan, whose firm, Bishop-Wisecarver, makes moving parts for instruments like MRI machines.
Kan's roughly 50-person firm faces a challenge common to employers in this middle-skills category. Her most experienced employees are Baby Boomers who will eventually retire, and she must find or train replacements from adults in the workforce.
Right now the recession makes unemployment so high that employers find it easy to hire even in strong industries like health care.
But as the state economy recovers over the next few years, retirements will accelerate - up to 60 percent of the jobs in the years ahead will be replacement openings - and California companies are likely to face shortages in this middle-skills category.
The report argues that now, when so many unemployed Californians need retraining, is the time to start retooling the educational system to help adults gain the credentials to move into these occupations.
The group put no estimate on the cost of beefed-up training, but occupational training programs leading to jobs in medical technician specialties, for instance, are more costly to offer than academic courses leading to degrees.
"People are dying to get into these programs, but there aren't enough slots," said Jennifer Hermann, human resources director for UCSF Medical Center.
FROM THE EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:
With a gross state product of $1.8 trillion dollars, California is the eighth largest economy in the world, ahead of global powerhouses like Russia, Canada, India and Mexico. Our diverse state economy encompasses internet startups in Silicon Valley, the agricultural fields of the Central Valley and the bright lights of Hollywood. We’re also home to some of the largest college systems in the world. Our state’s sheer size combined with the breadth and depth of our industrial base and extensive education system have long put California at the forefront of economic innovation and opportunity nationwide.
However, we face deep, systemic economic problems today that threaten to undermine the programs, policies and industries that have long made us strong. Our ranking as a national innovator is slipping. 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.
Despite all the changes and challenges our state is experiencing today, and despite popular perception, one crucial fact will not change.
Middle-skill jobs represent the largest share of jobs in California—some 49 percent—and the largest share of future job openings.
Middle-skill jobs are those that require more than a high school diploma but less than a bachelor’s degree. Prior to the recession, California was already experiencing shortages of middleskill workers in crucial industries. Much of the job creation fostered by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will be in middle-skill jobs. With rising unemployment in the state, this is precisely the time to ensure we are training the middle-skill workforce that will be critical to our economic recovery and long-term success.
Addressing the need for middle-skill workers will require attention not only to educational opportunities for young people, but also for those already in the workforce.
Fifty-eight percent of the people who will be in California’s workforce in the year 2020 were already working adults in 2005—long past the traditional high schoolto- college pipeline.
Who are middle-skill workers? They are the construction workers who build and repair our homes, bridges, and roads. The health care workers who care for us and our loved ones. Truckers who keep our stores supplied. Police and firefighters who keep us safe. The term middle-skill refers to the level of education required by a particular job. It should not be confused with the actual competence and capacity of workers and occupations—many middle-skill occupations require highly skilled trade and technical workers with several years of training and on-the-job experience.
Federal funds from the stimulus bill are expected to create new jobs and many of these will be middle-skill, especially in green jobs, construction, manufacturing and transportation. Matching the skills of our workforce to meet this demand will help our economy recover more quickly and prepare us for better times ahead. But it doesn’t end there. Retirement of large numbers of baby boomers will exacerbate demand for middle-skill workers, once the recovery begins.
California has made significant investments in training its workforce. But even before recent state budget cuts, these investments were not keeping up with the demand for middle-skill workers. We must take proactive policy actions to align our workforce and education resources to better meet the state’s labor market demand. We must also make significant investments in training programs that will prepare many more California residents—laid off workers, workers in low-wage jobs, potential workers with low basic skills—for better, more plentiful middle-skill jobs and careers. And we must address our state’s structural budget issues that will prevent us from sustaining these investments in the future.
If we are to realize our state’s full economic potential, educational access must reflect the demands of a 21st-century economy and the realities of the 21st-century workforce. The following vision can shape our state’s workforce and education policies and investments to meet these 21st-century realities:
Every Californian should have access to the equivalent of up to two years of education or training past high school—leading to a vocational credential, industry certification, or one’s first two years of college—to be pursued at whatever point and pace makes sense for individual workers and industries. Every person must also have access to the basic skills needed to pursue such education.
Businesses, labor, educators, community-based organizations and others must work together on this ambitious goal. Policymakers must step in with strong political leadership and commitment to ensure that California has the middle-skill workforce we need to recover and thrive.California's Forgotten Middle-Skill Jobs -