How to close O.C. skills gap

April 07, 2015

Orange County is the sixth most-populous county in the nation. If measured as a country, it would be ranked 45th globally in terms of production. It boasts a large, highly skilled workforce representing diverse industries, from high-tech to tourism, and, at 5 percent, continually has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state. Clearly, O.C. is a trailblazer in economic growth and business innovation for California and the nation.

This prowess, however, may be threatened, both regionally and nationally, if focus is not placed on the development of skilled employees that can fill jobs needed at every level of the workforce. Not only is there a skills gap for higher education graduates, but the U.S. also has a skills gap in technical training jobs – jobs requiring education beyond a high school diploma but not a four-year degree.

In fact, these middle-skill jobs account for 54 percent of the U.S. labor market, but only 44 percent of U.S. workers are able to fill them. As a result, key industries are unable to find enough sufficiently trained workers. Home to myriad technology-driven industries, Orange County is not immune to this shortage.

Our policymakers can do something about this, starting by fully funding the Workforce and Investment and Opportunity Act to include career technical education and adult education and by modernizing the Pell Grant program to give more access to programs that cater to the technical training employers need to fill vacant jobs. Orange County Business Council supports this route as a means to diversify the workforce and create more opportunity for economic growth – targeting investments to close the middle-skill gap must be a priority.

Alicia Berhow is vice president of Workforce Development and Advocacy with the Orange County Business Council.