California Task Force Addresses Skills Gap

By Jenna Leventoff, December 10, 2015

The California Community College Board of Governors’ Task Force on Workforce, Job Creation, and a Strong Economy released 25 recommendations intended to help the community college system prepare students for the workforce and close California’s skills gap. The recommendations were based on input from over 1,200 stakeholders, including community college staff, employers, labor organizations, and workforce training entities.

The task force recommendations recognized that consistent metrics and robust outcomes data are necessary to “improve pathways within career technical education, identify which programs employers’ value, and align their program and course offerings to local and regional labor market needs.” Accordingly, three of the report’s 25 recommendations involved the use of data. Specifically, the report called for the Board of Governors to:

(1) Create common metrics for state funded CTE programs;

(2) Make it easier to track student outcomes across institutions and programs by creating a student identifier; and

(3) Improve the quality and accessibility of outcome and labor market data.

Other recommendations called for the Board of Governors to develop partnerships among community colleges, business, industry, and other related entities to align college programs with industry needs; establish sustained funding for career technical education courses and programs; and evaluate and revise curriculum to align education with employment.

These changes are necessitated by California’s anticipated skills gap. By 2025, nearly 1.9 million California jobs may require a middle skill credential. However, "[e]mployers in key industries report difficulty in filling job openings because of a shortage of workers with the right skills,'' said Sunita Cooke, chair of the task force and president/superintendent of MiraCosta Community College District. This shortfall could lead to one million unfilled jobs.

If enacted, the task force recommendations will not be the only uses of data underway in California’s community college system. Using information from the state’s unemployment insurance wage records, the system has produced two online tools showing in-state employment outcomes for graduates. Salary Surfer shows aggregated median earnings data from graduates of select degree and certificate programs 2 and 5 years after graduation. Similarly, the College Wage Tracker provides potential students with average wages three years after graduation, by program area and college. Both can help potential students make decisions about postsecondary education. A third effort, LaunchBoard, provides California community colleges and K-12 school districts with information about the effectiveness of career technical education programs. In a revised version, set to be released in January 2016, users will be able to view reports answering questions including whether the right number of people are being trained for available jobs, whether students are getting jobs, and how much they are earning.