skills gap

Task Force Makes Recommendations to Close Skills Gap

By Dennis Pierce

Community colleges and other stakeholders in California have a plan to fill 1 million jobs in 10 years.

A California task force has presented its recommendations for how the state’s community college system can help fill the need for an estimated 1 million more credentialed workers within the next decade.

According to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, 30 percent of all job openings in California — or a total of 1.9 million jobs — will require some college education by 2025. To meet this challenge, the state will need to grant a million more “middle-skill” credentials, according to the California Task Force on Workforce, Job Creation, and a Strong Economy.

The task force’s recommendations for closing the skills gap include:

  • Creating a set of metrics for evaluating the success of career and technical education programs. One thing that is not measured now, says task force chair Sunita Cooke, is the success of “skill builders,” or people who only need a few courses to improve their career prospects.

“For us, they wouldn’t be counted as a positive outcome, even though what they intended to do was satisfied by these few courses,” says Cooke, who is president of the MiraCosta Community College District. “If we’re going to count metrics, then let’s really count the ones that matter.”

  • Improving the quality and accessibility of labor market data, so community colleges can use this information to better respond to industry needs. “We need to make it easier for our colleges to make good decisions about new programs they should offer and program expansions — but also for parents and students to make good decisions about the career fields they’re interested in,” Cooke says.

This can be done by translating labor-market data into a visual format that is more digestible. “You don’t just send somebody to a labor-market table and say, ‘Here. Good luck in figuring out how this works,’” she says.

  • Revising the curriculum-development process to ensure closer alignment with employers. Industry representatives already sit on the advisory committees of community colleges and help inform curriculum decisions, but the task force recommendations would take this involvement to another level, Cooke says.

“We’ve heard employers say that the skills and the knowledge required in their field are changing on a monthly basis or every few months,” she says, “and so the communication between businesses and colleges in those fields has to be much more dynamic. The feedback loops have to be faster and more responsive.”

  • Develop statewide model curricula that can be customized by colleges to meet local needs — and an interactive system where industry leaders can rate or validate the quality of programs.
  • Improving the number and quality of CTE instructors. This could be accomplished by removing the regulatory barriers that prevent industry experts from serving as teachers; encouraging industry organizations to develop teaching talent; enhancing professional-development opportunities for faculty; and exploring solutions to attract faculty.
  • Developing more career pathways that include “stackable” components for moving students to successively higher levels of education and training.
  • Enhancing career awareness, pathway planning and job placement services.
  • Establishing and maintaining a supplemental funding source to help colleges create high-quality CTE courses, and improve the coordination between existing funding streams. CTE courses are often more expensive to develop, yet they receive the same amount of state funding, the task force notes.

These recommendations will be presented to the California Community Colleges Board of Governors in September. If the board adopts the recommendations, the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s office will be tasked with coordinating the work and developing a project timeline. Cooke expects it will take two to three years to fully implement the recommendations.

The task force consisted of a mix of community college administrators, faculty, and stakeholders outside of education, such as business and workforce development leaders. “It was a remarkable configuration of people, and we all learned from each other in this process,” Cooke says.

One challenge the group faced was the different expectations of its members. In higher education, it can take several years to implement change, but “business and industry expect to move at a much faster pace,” Cooke says. “So there was great compromise in the timeline of the work.” Still, it was “an amazingly rewarding experience” that should benefit the state.

“We’ve got thousands of jobs that are currently unfilled, and we’ve got tens of thousands of Californians who can’t get a job because they don’t have the right set of skills,” she concludes. “This was work that was an imperative.”

Dennis Pierce

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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