We must invest in ‘reskilling’ workers for higher-wage jobs

Cash register workers and their customers in area in a South San Francisco store. (Photo: Sundry Photography, via Shutterstock)

The California Employment Development Department (EDD) recently issued its monthly employment report showing unemployment held steady at 8.3 percent in April as the state’s employers added 101,800 jobs. EDD also trumpeted that California regained almost 48 percent of the 2,714,800 total nonfarm jobs lost in March and April 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nationally, multiple economic indicators, such as consumer spending and gross domestic product, point to growth.

Many Californians who endured prolonged unemployment or underemployment are going back to work. That’s good news for the Golden State.

However, a large share of the jobs are low-skill, low-wage positions in areas such as leisure & hospitality (+62,800) and other others services (+10,500), such as personal care services. To be certain, these jobs are an important part of California’s economic recovery, but California would greatly benefit from employment growth in higher wage areas in order to achieve long-term stability and prosperity.

The future of work will be pioneered in areas like artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and automation.

To get there, we need investment that enables those awaiting or considering their return to work, to reskill. Acquiring new skills will enable Californians to fill high-wage earning gaps in the jobs marketplace. Reskilling the workforce can start in the following three areas:

Skills for problem-solving and teaming.
The idea that skills addressing the human aspects of business are necessary to prosper is not new. A 2017 report from consulting firm Deloitte forecasts that soft-skill intensive occupations will account for two-thirds of all jobs by 2030. Future career opportunities in California will hinge on problem-solving skills rooted in agility, flexibility, resilience, teamwork, and communication. One of the silver linings of the pandemic has been the widespread adoption of online digital interaction. This suggests that Californians who can adeptly engage people’s creativity, collaboration, and honest dialogue to projects and tasks through video telephony and online social interaction will be in high demand and highly rewarded.

Skills oriented to where future jobs will be and targeting workers to fill them.
In many circles, discussion about jobs and careers focuses on current gaps. However, the future of work will be pioneered in areas like artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and automation. Already, forward-looking companies are diving headfirst into skills development for workforce candidates that will be needed to run future systems. The tech space, for example, is no longer limited to engineers. In late April Google announced they are partnering with nonprofits to offer helpful, no-cost workforce readiness training to formerly incarcerated Californians in areas such as interviewing, resume development, entrepreneurship, and business budgeting.

California is expecting a roughly $15 billion budget surplus next fiscal year. These extra dollars are largely earmarked for rainy-day funds and stimulus payments.

Skills that benefit the organization and society.
Positively impacting the world in areas such as the environment and social justice is now a business imperative. At Pepperdine Graziadio Business School, MBA students learn traditional marketing, management, accounting, and financial skills. However, woven into the fabric of our course teachings is our Socially, Environmentally, and Ethically Responsible (SEER) business principles. SEER allows students to complement their MBA degree with courses and activities that will empower them to be more mindful leaders and entrepreneurs with a focus on sustainability. Future workers will be expected to offer and be rewarded for approaches balancing the needs of society, environment, and economy.

As we saw in the comeback from the Great Recession, the Golden State can be a job-producing machine. The state is a major entertainment, technology, manufacturing, and business services hub. We are blessed with natural resources, serviceable infrastructure, and enviable weather. Our residents are renowned for their entrepreneurial and industrious mindset. The missing ingredient is job reskilling resources.

California is expecting a roughly $15 billion budget surplus next fiscal year. These extra dollars are largely earmarked for rainy-day funds and stimulus payments. However, California could allocate those dollars toward training programs, low- and no-cost college and reimbursement for business training.

Now is the time to invest to ensure our workforce has the skills to succeed now and in the long-term.

Editor’s Note: Ann Feyerherm and David M. Smith are faculty members of the Graziado Business School at Pepperdine University. Feyerherm, Ph.D, is a professor of organizational theory and management. David M. Smith, Ph.D, is a professor of economics and associate provost for online learning. 

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