Michele Nash-Hoff: San Diego Region Identifies and Tackles Skills Gap

November 13, 2015


On Thursday, November 6th, nearly 500 business leaders, educators, career counselors, and economic and workforce development professionals attended the San Diego Workforce Partnership (SDWP) conference on "Identifying, Tackling, and Closing the Skills Gap." This conference was a follow up to the one-day conference held in October 2014 where reports analyzing five industry sectors vital to the San Diego region were released. These five sectors are:

[Reposted from Savingusmanufacturing.com  |  Michele Nash-Hoff  |  November 11, 2015]

  • Advanced Manufacturing
  • Clean Energy (also referred to as Advanced Transportation)
  • Life Sciences
  • Information and Communication Technologies (ICT)
  • Health Care

Since the release of these reports last year, the region has received $18.4 million in grants to support career pathway training programs in these Priority Sectors. Posters created on each sector have been posted in schools throughout the region to help students "understand what the jobs are, what they pay, and the career path to get there. People cannot aspire to careers they do not know exist."
During the past year, the SDWP:

  • Produced Labor Market Analysis reports on the five listed Priority Sectors and aerospace
  • Conducted 40+ community presentations
  • Performed contracted research services on behalf of regional partners, including:
    • Automotive technicians and managers
    • Aircraft maintenance and piloting occupations
    • Motorcycle technician
    • Middle skill jobs, gaps, and opportunities

After the audience was welcomed by SDWP President/CEO, Peter Callstrom, he commented, "This research was a vital step in identifying the skills gap. We need to train young people and help them find the careers they want." Councilmember Myrtle Cole welcomed the audience to her district, and Myeisha Peguero Gamino, V. P. of lead sponsor J. P. Morgan Chase & Co., said that her company had developed New Skills at Work, a five-year, $250 million global initiative to build employer-led talent-development systems, and San Diego was one of the areas they selected. Dr. Sunita Cooke, Superintendent/President of MiraCosta Community College District, announced that the Board of Governors for California's Community Colleges would be meeting on November 17-19th to review the reports and make decisions on future programs.
The audience was provided with the executive summaries of  three reports released at the conference. The summary of the first report on "Workforce Needs of Small Businesses in San Diego County," was presented by Zhenya Lindstrom, Director of the Center of Excellence, San Diego and Imperial Counties Region.
Within the San Diego region, small businesses of less than 50 people represent 95% of all businesses, but in the first four of the five sectors, they represent 97% (Health Care is 92%). However, 86% of these businesses are even smaller ─ less than 20 persons.
The report states: "In 2015, small businesses (including owner-operated firms) employed approximately 568,000 workers. By 2016, total employment in small businesses is expected to grow by 15 percent, or 87,800 positions."
The top five challenges for these businesses are: (1) Ongoing/continuous improvement (51%), (2) identifying growth opportunities (44%), (3) cost reduction strategies (28%), (4) employee recruitment and retention (24%), and (5) product innovation and development (21%.)
The top skills sought in new hires are: work experience. technical skills, "soft" skills, and post-secondary education. While businesses ranked soft skills as third in importance, further analysis showed that "topics such as critical thinking, problem solving, communication and leadership ranked highest in terms of useful workshop topics."
Ms. Lindstrom said, "Two out of three small businesses do not utilize any of the resources available to small businesses." The top three resources familiar to the companies surveyed were: Chambers of commerce, Better business Bureau, and the Small Business Administration.
The report made the following recommendations:

  • Increase awareness of resources available to small businesses
  • Develop strategies to connect small businesses to employees who have the skills needed, and provide training on effective approaches to employee retention
  • Incorporate training that enhances skills such as social media marketing, IT and accounting into small business training programs
  • Ensure that small business modules are incorporated into community colleges' curricula so that graduates are prepared to enter the workforce in small business fields

An expert panel comprised of George Eiskamp, Cofounder/CEO of GroundMetrics, Inc., James Hayes, Program Coordinator, Deputy Sector Navigator for Small Business Sector, San Diego and Imperial Counties Community College, and Marlene Taylor, President, Taylor Trim & Supply, Inc. discussed the skill gap. Ms. Taylor commented that they cannot find enough carpenters since the building industry finally recovered.
The  second report, "Middle-Skill Jobs, Gaps, and Opportunities," was presented by Michael Coombs, Research Manager for the San Diego Regional EDC.
The report defines middle skill jobs as "a position that requires at least a high school diploma... an associate degree or less;"however, only skilled labor with extensive training can fill these positions...With over 38 percent of households earning below the self-sufficient wage of $13.09 per hour and over 80,000 people unemployed each month, San Diego needs to fill these positions and close the skills gap." Currently, there are 603,535 San Diegans employed in middle-skill jobs.
Six of the top 12 occupations for which employers are having difficulty hiring workers are related to Advanced Manufacturing: CNC programmers (82%), Machinists (80%), CNC machine tool operators (78%), Inspectors (68%), Machine setters & operators (62%), and Welders, solderers, and brazers (55%).
The challenges to tackling the skills gap are:

  • "Between 2004 and 2014, 16 percent or 350,000 San Diegans ages 25 and older did not have a high school diploma.
  • Educational attainment has remained relatively unchanged since 2004, yet San Diego employers expect more education and technical expertise from the workforce.
  • An estimated 35% of San Diegans ages 25 and older lack the post-secondary credentials to fill middle-skill job openings.
  • 42 percent of the adult population is at or nearing retirement.
  • Employers consistently report a lack of soft skills, such as communication and problem solving, in workers."

According to the report, there are currently "603,535 middle-skill jobs in San Diego, accounting for 37 percent of all employment in San Diego County." The opportunities are:

  • "The median hourly wage for these workers is $20.20 versus the San Diego median hourly living wage of $13.09" and these positions have opportunities for career advancement.
  • "20,565+ middle-skill jobs openings are projected to be available every year through 2019.
  • Advanced Manufacturing has the largest number of skilled jobs in San Diego and employs 13 percent of San Diego's workers.
  • Health Care employs more than 100,000 people and is considered "recession-proof." Health Care grew 11 percent while overall San Diego employment declined 6 percent during the Great Recession (2007-2009).
  • ICT employs more than 42,000 workers and is projected to add 1,600 jobs over the next five years."

The report states that "Industry- or employer-driven curriculum, programs and training will be key in closing the middle-skill jobs gap" and made the following recommendations:

  • "The workforce development system will need to focus more on internships and apprenticeships where hands-on training will help develop workers' knowledge, skills and abilities for middle-skill jobs.
  • Employers would benefit from participating in high school and higher education curriculum development.
  • Past public-private partnerships have been shown to generate workers with strong "foundational skills" such as mathematics, and will increase availability of talent as well as employee retention.
  • Policymakers have the ability to pave the way for more productive collaboration between educators and employers by implementing effective interventions and removing regulatory and legal barriers."

After this report summary, an expert panel comprised of Ann Durham, Deputy Sector Navigator for Health and Health Workforce Initiative Director, Gabriel Draguicevich, IPT Lead/Program Manager, Fleet Readiness Center Southwest, Hernan Luis y Prado, President//CEO of Workshops for Warriors, and Marlene Ruiz, Director, Ambulatory Education and Consulting Services at Kaiser Permanente, discussed their various programs. Mr. Luis y Prado said, "Since 2011, we have certified 194 veterans and wounded warriors and granted a total of 532 certifications. We recently received a $75,000 grant from J. P. Morgan Chase, $50,000 from Verizon, and a $37,000 donation from Core Powered Inc. We were just approached by the Department of Labor about starting an apprenticeship program."
During the lunch break, Mayor Kevin Faulconer spoke briefly about the importance of the five Priority Sectors to the economy of the San Diego region and the need to have a public/private collaboration to close the skills gap. He was followed by the keynote speaker, Dr. Brice Harris, Chancellor of the California Community College system. He briefly outlined the expansion of the community college mission from its establishment in 1907 to the present day. There are 113 colleges in the system, making it the largest system in the country. He said, "In the 1970's, only 28% of jobs required more than a high school diploma. This grew to 56% by the 1990s, and by 2020, it will be 65% of jobs. California needs one million more workers meeting these requirements by 2020, but today, 40% of youth ages 16-24 are not in school or not working. Pre-recession 1 of 11 youth was in college; now it is 1 of 14. About 70% of students need remediation in Math, English, or both. Every year of education by one worker increases the regional GDP per capita by 10.5%."
The executive summary of the final report, "Priority Sectors Workforce Initiatives in San Diego County," was presented by Kelley Ring, Sr. Business and Research Analyst at the SDWP. The purpose of this analysis was to determine how we did in the last year and what do we need to do in the future. I was astounded that he said "There are 492 workforce initiatives from 100 organizations that impact one or more of the Priority sectors." Of these 492, 402 are related to training and education. There are 129 related to ICT, 126 related to Health Care, 95 related to Clean Energy, 58 related to Life Sciences, and 57 related to Advanced Manufacturing. (Note: There are some initiatives that cross sectors or types; therefore, the totals may add up to more than 492.)

  • The most important goals for the Advanced Manufacturing initiatives are:
  • Change the public perception of traditional manufacturing to Advanced Manufacturing
  • Foster science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education in the K-12 system
  • Add internship/work experience requirements to training and education programs
  • Increase the number of public-private partnerships to share resources
  • Community colleges play the biggest role in providing education and training in the Advanced Manufacturing sector, while private businesses play the biggest role in the Health Care and Clean Energy sectors.

The expert panel provided information on some of the current initiatives. The panel was comprised of Paolo Espaldon, Director, Career Technical Education, San Diego and Imperial Counties Community Colleges Consortium, Shirley Hirai, Manager, Equal Opportunity, Port of San Diego, and Victor Rodriguez, Sr. Apprenticeship Consultant, California Department of Industrial Relations. Of particular interest to me is that the State of California is now certifying and providing some funding for apprenticeship programs at private companies.
This report concluded: "Many initiatives have begun to address these recommendations, but there is still much work to be done. Common challenges across the Priority Sectors still remain, including the need to:

  • Foster STEM education in the K-12 system.
  • Include internship or work experience requirements in training and education programs.
  • Improve soft skills (e.g., critical thinking, teamwork and communication) for job seekers.
  • Develop training and education programs that result in professional licensures.
  • Work with employers to ensure that training programs meet employers' needs."

In the last five years of researching and writing articles about STEM education, the skills gap, and workforce development and training, I have never encountered a region or a state that is doing more to identify, tackle, and close the skills gap than the San Diego region. I believe this is why San Diego has an advantage over other regions of California in attracting and retaining manufacturers despite the higher cost of doing business in California.

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