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Building a Stronger Workforce to Compete Globally

Regional, state and national education, workforce and economic development leaders will gather at UC Davis on May 3rd for the roll out of the Sacramento Capital Region Cluster Workforce Action Plan. Managed by Valley Vision, a regional civic leadership organization, the Plan resulted from an intensive process of research by Los Rios Center of Excellence and engagement with employers and education, workforce and community partners, including six Next Economy business cluster forums. Sponsored by JPMorgan Chase and Co. as part of its national New Skills at Work Initiative, the project identified many areas where employers are confronting major skills gaps, which present opportunities for workers to gain new skills and career pathways.

This snapshot of the Capital region’s workforce status is reflected in other regions across the state. The State of California faces a skills gap that puts our businesses at a disadvantage and impedes economic growth. Employers are eager and ready to grow their businesses, but if they continue to be challenged to find ample skilled workers to fill their needs, the state’s economic competiveness will continue to suffer.

With 113 campuses across the state, California Community Colleges are best positioned to provide career technical education (CTE), and they’re ready to do so. Our community colleges possess the both infrastructure to teach the middle skills (defined as more than a high school diploma and less than a four-year degree), and offers talented, highly capable and passionate CTE faculty equipped to deliver a qualified workforce prepared with the skills employers seek.

Despite these facts, our community college system does not have the necessary support to deliver the right skills to the marketplace at the right time.

The Governor’s 2016-2017 budget proposes to increase funding for career technical education by $200 million though the creation of the Strong Workforce program. We believe these funds are crucial to enable CTE faculty to deliver the job skills needed at the speed that business needs it. Here’s how:

First, the Strong Workforce program supports an infrastructure of regional collaboration between local faculty and industry so they can co-develop cutting-edge, work-ready curricula that meets labor market needs.

Second, once local stakeholders decide on the right curricula, the Strong Workforce program will accelerate the approval processes. Right now, the local- and state-level curriculum approval processes take far too long and by the time a CTE graduate is ready for the workplace, the skills he or she has acquired have become obsolete. That’s a no-win situation.  

Third, to deliver curriculum at the speed of business, we must enable CTE faculty to make it portable. Portability means a student can start a program at one institution and complete at another – with a seamless transition. The Strong Workforce program calls for this.  It acknowledges the value of prior learning and work experience as well as pathways that include stackable components and modularized curricula, complete with work-based learning opportunities. This is a win-win situation.

Our committed CTE faculty can close the state’s skill gap, and the passage of the Governor’s budget for the Strong Workforce program will make it possible by working at the speed of business.

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Bill Mueller is CEO of Valley Vision, a regional civic leadership organization headquartered in Sacramento. Doug Houston, Ph.D., is chancellor of the Yuba Community College District, comprising of Yuba College and Woodland Community College. 

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