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    Read the guest commentary: "State could ease workforce pipeline program with new bill" published in the Silicon Valley Business Journal.

    Watch video: Barbara Kamm on SB 850

    Op Ed

    Barbara Kamm, President & CEO, Tech CU

    Building California’s Workforce Requires Outside-The-Plan Thinking

    Help Wanted Immediately! California employers seeking highly skilled workers with competency and training in technology, public service, public safety, healthcare and more. Bachelor’s degree required. 

    It’s no secret that businesses seeking highly-skilled talent in California are struggling to find it. As the state’s economy continues to recover, particularly in the tech pockets of the Bay Area, San Diego and Los Angeles, the demand for workers with specialized training will only increase.

    Unfortunately, California’s current Master Plan for Higher Education does not sufficiently meet the needs of our employers. According to a report by the California Community College Baccalaureate Degree Study Group, public and private institutions are today awarding a combined 150,000 bachelor’s degrees annually — that’s not nearly enough. The state will still need to increase that number by almost 60,000 per year (about 40 percent above current levels) to meet the projected demand for workers in 2025, which will be partly caused by retiring baby boomers.

    A lack of available workers in California will keep companies from growing, and stagnant business makes for a sluggish economy. If California is to remain competitive, we must address this gap. Building a strong, local workforce is one of the most important things we can do to keep companies here and help them thrive.

    As a business community, we must encourage legislators to push for alternative, more affordable and convenient ways for students and those already in the labor force to further educate themselves so they are prepared to move quickly into the fields where they’re needed most. It makes sense, therefore, to allow community colleges to help meet the need for certain specialized four-year degree programs, which will in turn increase California’s supply of highly-skilled workers.

    Current restrictions on California’s community colleges date back to a Master Plan for Higher Education that was developed some 50 years ago. It’s time to modernize. Senate Bill 850 (SB 850) proposes to do just that. Introduced in January, it would set up a pilot program allowing each of California's community college districts to offer one bachelor’s degree program per campus to serve an unmet need in the area without duplicating programs at nearby state colleges and universities. While one specialized program per campus is not enough, it’s a start. This is a win-win situation for students and business.

    Employers will get the skilled talent they need in fields like automotive, technology, respiratory therapy, homeland security, and dental hygiene, and students will get educated and into jobs with less debt. This also means young workers will increase their disposable income more quickly and contribute to the growth of local businesses as they purchase such things as household and consumer goods, automobiles and perhaps eventually homes. A well-supplied labor force will also attract more companies into the area, which in turn increases tax revenue.

    As technology becomes ubiquitous in our lives, the competency requirements in many fields are increasing. Students are already required to take almost as many credits for their associate degree as they would need for a bachelor’s in certain technical fields. It makes sense to allow them to take their education to the next level as affordably and conveniently as possible.

    And what of the non-traditional student? Many workers currently in the labor force who want to upgrade their skills for job advancement often find the only four-year degree program available in their specialized field is out of the area, if not the state. For employers, having ready, local access to ongoing technical education and training for employees is definitely a bonus, especially if it comes with more affordable tuition prices. 

    With so many obvious benefits to this simple solution for increasing the number of highly skilled workers in California, why hold businesses hostage to an outdated Master Plan for Higher Education? I encourage my fellow business leaders to write your state legislator in support of SB 850. 

    Keep California competitive by joining the 22 other states in the U.S. that allow community colleges to offer bachelor's degrees in specialized fields, and let’s begin building a qualified workforce that meets our business needs today and tomorrow.