Reporting

July 12, 2013 by Cheryl Getuiza

California bill requires state to attack skills gap


Boeing is struggling to fill positions. (Photo Credit: James Gordon)

There's no arguing the facts: California's unemployment rate, as of May, was 8.6 percent. Yet there are more than 840,000 jobs available now. The gap between the number of folks out of work and the number of open jobs is shocking, yet those who study the state's economy know there's one big challenge standing in the way of closing in on that disparity—having a skilled workforce.

Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain once said, "It's all to do with the training: you can do a lot if you're properly trained."

Amen to that, Your Highness.

Fixing California's economy to bring it back to a healthy, competitive level is top priority for many of the state's elected leaders, including Senator Ted Lieu representing the 28th district. How does one do that? By implementing workforce development strategies that better prepare workers with the skills necessary to compete for jobs.

"There might be divergence on what the best way to go about improving growth in our economy and reducing our unemployment rate, but everyone in Sacramento is focused on creating more jobs. I happen to think my bill, Senate Bill 118, sector strategy, is the best way moving forward."

In January, Senator Lieu introduced SB 118 that seeks to help provide the necessary resources to train and better prepare workers for those positions most needed and pay best.

"California's land value is too expensive, our cost of living is too high. We're going to compete where we have a competitive or comparative advantage, that would be in economic sectors where California can do things better than other states or other nations," said Senator Lieu.

"When you look at our economy, about 70 percent is driven by 15 to 20 economic sectors. For example, we have a very robust high-tech industry. We have a terrific bio-tech industry. We have an excellent aerospace industry. We have an entertainment sector that's hard to replicate. We have ports. We have travel and tourism in California. These are examples of industries we can compete in and do better than others."

SB 118:

  • puts California on a sector strategy approach which is something that more than 25 states are exploring or implementing,
  • requires the state Workforce Investment Board conduct annual skills gap analysis specifying which industries face shortages of skilled workers and then requires a plan on how to meet those shortages and how we train workers for the skills they need in these industries,
  • also introduces workforce education and training principles that are aligned with a statewide strategy focus.

"One of the drivers of this bill came out of some the hearings when I was in the Assembly. The aerospace company Raytheon testified that the CEO didn't lose sleep at night because of increased governmental regulations. The CEO lost sleep because Raytheon couldn't fill open positions that it had. Boeing testified on any given day they had dozens of open positions they had trouble filling."

Even if SB 118 is signed into law, the Senator says there will be some challenges to overcome.

"Funding is always helpful because some of these training programs are going to require more funding because we're moving to a different economy, one that requires workers to have additional skills than just a high school diploma," said Senator Lieu.

The bill was recently approved by the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee. Up next is a vote by the Assembly Committee on Jobs, Economic Development and the Economy once the Legislature returns from recess.

"I'm hopeful it will pass," said Lieu. "It received bi-partisan support. It's based on numerous studies showing sector strategies have worked in other states and really, to me. It's a common-sense approach to what California is facing in terms of its economic realities."

Categories: Workforce

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