Online community college crucial for skilled workforce

Pasadena City College. (Photo: Ken Wolter)

A bad news/good news workforce situation exists in today’s economy, and it is giving employers heartburn.  The challenge is how to create a more educated labor pool, especially in high growth industries.

The bad news: there are simply not enough skilled workers to meet the needs of California’s businesses. The good news: there are 2.5 million Californians who can be part of the solution with some college-level training. They just need a more flexible educational opportunity.

The percentage of the new jobs in California requiring some college will equal the percentage requiring a bachelor’s degree, the Public Policy Institute of California reports.

The “opportunity” for this population of working adults comes in the form of Gov. Brown’s proposed online community college. It will support working adults who need additional skills and credentials to land quality, emerging jobs and advance their economic future. The state Legislature is conducting hearings in Sacramento on the proposal now, and many opinions are weighing in.

For employers feeling panicked about keeping up with the demand for skilled labor, this highly accessible and affordable resource is good news.  A fully online college to train and credential workers is no less significant than the industrial revolution’s inventions harnessing water, steam and other natural resources that helped put more people to work in the industrial age.

If that sounds like an exaggeration, consider this: Within two years, 65 percent of jobs in the U.S. will require at least a college credential, according to estimates by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

The percentage of the new jobs in California requiring some college will equal the percentage requiring a bachelor’s degree, the Public Policy Institute of California reports.

The need is real. Technology surrounds us and new emerging technologies are coming online every day. A gig economy and artificial intelligence are changing the face of business. As the economy changes, so must the skills of those who will fill these future jobs.  We believe that California’s 2.5 million working adults from 25-34 years without a college credential and another 6.2 million from 35-65 in the same position, are part of the solution.

This is not breaking news to business, education and government leaders, who have been collaborating locally and nationally to address our deficiency of postsecondary degree attainment. Many employers provide training incentives, but the incentives are often out of reach due to cost, time commitment or family circumstances.

The Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and UNITE-LA recently conducted research and prepared a report on the talent crisis and what employers could do to address it.

Among the findings were that “community colleges are playing an increasingly important role in providing valuable partnership opportunities for businesses. They appear flexible, highly motivated and willing to actively recruit adult learners.”

Given the urgency of the state’s economic and flexible education needs, Gov. Brown’s online college proposal uniquely and aggressively meets that criteria.

The makeup across the state of this stranded population is 49 percent Latino, 31 percent white, 9 percent Asian and 7 percent African American. Many cannot attend college on a traditional academic calendar because they are the family bread winner or they care for children or ill relatives. They need to attend college on their own time in their homes.

The new online offering from California’s 115 community colleges will work for this group of workers because of its flexibility and short-term credential programs. Community College Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley points out that providing such an online-only option corrects a glaring injustice for Californians for whom this college is intended to serve.

This fully online community college offering of training and credentials for an overlooked population is coming at an urgent time for California workers, our economy and our eager employers. Lawmakers in Sacramento have an opportunity to do the right thing and approve of governor’s bold and innovative proposal, which essential for everyone concerned, especially those looking for a pathway to an economically stable future.

Ed’s Note: Gary L. Toebben is President and CEO of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. Paul Granillo is on the Board of Directors of the Campaign for College Opportunity

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