By Jordan Cunningham
California has a huge hole in our skilled labor force.
Construction companies scramble to find carpenters, electricians, iron workers and those in other specialized careers that make up the construction workforce.
Nearly 70 percent of California contractors said they’re having difficulty filling positions for installation specialists. Roughly 50 percent said it’s difficult to find skilled carpenters, electricians and crane operators.
There are 5.5 million job openings in the U.S. and most don’t require a four-year degree.
California doesn’t have a jobs problem, it has a job-training problem. There simply aren’t enough people entering the workforce with the skills needed for the jobs that are available.
That means employers are less productive, are unable to complete projects, and spend time training employees instead of focusing on building and creating things.
A solution to the labor shortage is right in front of us.
Career Technical Education offers the same value as a traditional college (an education toward a career), often without the student loan debt that comes with a four-year degree. CTE programs are some of the fastest and most cost-effective methods to learn a valuable skillset and land a job immediately after graduation. For example, CTE graduates with a welding certificate earn more than many four-year college graduates.
We should be building up career tech in our schools and value CTE courses as much as any education program that prepares students to attend a university. Right now, out of the $74 billion California spends on K-12 education, CTE gets less than half a percent. CTE provides a huge return on investment and deserves more funding.
We also need to think more creatively about how we train the next generation.
Colorado, for example, is getting innovative by starting an apprenticeship program that turns the factory floor into a classroom for high school students. The concept, called CareerWise, is the nation’s first statewide youth apprenticeship program. It connects students to manufacturers that teach skills they can use immediately after graduating. It brings students outside of the 20th century classroom and into an actual workplace, where they can get the hands-on experience they need.
We should look at adopting programs like this in California.
Our workforce shortage is a problem, but we can fix it. Funding career-training programs is a smart decision that provides a ladder to good-paying careers. Sacramento should stand behind programs that will bring the labor shortage to an end.
• Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham is the 35th District representative in the California Assembly.