Despite the gains in employment and an overall decrease in the region’s unemployment rate to 3. 5 percent, experts have found that there is a gap between many workers’ skill sets and the training and education required for labor in many of San Diego’s key industries.
In attempts to overcome that obstacle, nonprofit National University System announced the launch of its national Workforce Education Solutions program in early April. The program aims to streamline degree and employer workforce requirements with the overall goal of bridging the gap in labor demand and worker competencies.
Chris Graham, president of National University’s Workforce Education Solutions, said the new program builds on its existing national partnerships with Boeing, the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, and the Washington Bankers Association, to name a few. By designing coursework and training specific to the needs of each industry, Workforce Education Solutions will reduce training and certification times across five industries to start.
National University affiliates, Sanford College of Education and Northcentral University, will offer hybrid programs designed to shorten worker education and competency times so skilled laborers can enter the job market in less time that it takes to earn a four-year or even a two-year degree.
The nonprofit said Workforce Education Solutions is designed to “align degree programs with employer-defined professional competencies so that students can pursue a more direct and affordable pathway to degree completion. Through this approach, students acquire skills that allow them to advance their careers and fill future job demands while ensuring employers can benefit from a highly skilled workforce.”
Graham said Workforce Education Solutions will move toward addressing the demand for skilled labor specific to San Diego when the program is expanded to include cybersecurity and expanded corporate offerings in the near future, as well as employment training for former military.
He said growing the hybrid course offering is necessary for the organization as demand for high-skilled workers in San Diego exists in various sectors of the local economy.
National University’s approach to meeting demand for skilled laborers nationally by engaging the private sector on its competency needs directly and designing training courses holistically is seen as advancing what private industry and nonprofit organizations have worked to develop in San Diego for the last decade.
Sean Karafin of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce said National University is taking a San Diego model national.
“That is just the way that we do things in San Diego, but the idea has been growing,” he said. “This effort from National University is national but it will grow through San Diego as well. The benefits will be felt locally and you are seeing that with respect to their criminal justice program and outreach systems. National University’s program is sophisticated in that it works with businesses that recruit talent across the nation, but it is taking a San Diego model — of training and recruitment — and making it much bigger.”
Demand for Skills Increasing
The San Diego Workforce Partnership, a workforce training organization, reported the largest gaps in worker demand and worker competencies exist in the innovation industries, education and health care. Employer survey responses and labor market data compiled in the Workforce Partnership’s “Priority Jobs in San Diego County” report from late-March suggest demand for qualified workers in these local industries will continue to increase as well.
By contrast, the partnership found professional and business services saw the largest gain in hiring for the month of February at 4,100.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported job openings decreased by 538,000 to 7.1 million at the end of February, while private industry and government hiring remained mostly stagnant at 40,000.
“Our labor market has gotten really tight because all of our qualified people are employed,” said Sarah Burns, director of research and evaluation at the Workforce Partnership. “We haven’t made sure that students graduating high school have a direction afterwards, whether that is a four-year degree of going right into the workforce. There is a lot of work going into making sure our worker pipeline is smoother.”
The San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp.’s Eduardo Velasquez said that while programs like apprenticeship can alleviate some of the immediate need for a qualified workforce, local industry will need to play a bigger role in workforce training as labor force requirements are expected to increase in the coming decade. Velasquez, the EDC’s research manager, also said local industry will need to address outreach to the underrepresented demographic of San Diegans in high-skilled occupations to enter the specialized workforce as demand for qualified laborers is expected to increase nationally and locally.
“Currently, about one third of existing jobs in the region require some degree or credential at the entry level,” he said. “We analyzed the expected job growth in the next decade and what we saw, for that projected job growth, is that 42 percent of those new jobs will require a higher degree or credential. That proportion is expected to increase meaningfully — by 2027.