Dan Walters

Dan Walters: Workforce skills gap threatens

Stephanie Arnold, 15, chats with friends while on her way to class at Luther Burbank High School in February. Arnold has arthrogyposis, a rare condition that affects the use of her arms and legs, but she gets straight A’s in her pre-International Baccalaureate studies at Luther Burbank High.
Stephanie Arnold, 15, chats with friends while on her way to class at Luther Burbank High School in February. Arnold has arthrogyposis, a rare condition that affects the use of her arms and legs, but she gets straight A’s in her pre-International Baccalaureate studies at Luther Burbank High. The Sacramento Bee

The aging of California’s baby-boom generation and changes in the state’s economic dynamics are creating a “workforce skills gap.”

That’s the phrase used by the Public Policy Institute of California in one of its several reports on a looming shortage of workers with the education and/or skills that a post-industrial, technology-heavy economy requires.

“In sum, our analysis shows that the supply of college-educated workers will not meet projected demand,” the PPIC report says.

A third of California’s workers have four-year degrees now and the PPIC expects that to top 40 percent soon, but the future supply is shrinking as baby boomers retire and education lags among Latinos, the state’s largest ethnic group.

Scarcely 10 percent of California’s Latinos have college degrees now, up from 7 percent in 1990, and it’s expected to rise to 12 percent by 2020.

“Despite these improvements,” the PPIC says, “Latinos will continue to have the lowest college education levels of any of the major racial and ethnic groups in California.”

One factor in the looming “workforce skills gap” is the rather lackadaisical job that the K-12 school system is doing to prepare their students for the demands of the economy and the college educations they will increasingly need to participate in that economy.

And a corollary is the unwillingness of the state’s politicians to make closing the gap a high priority.

Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature have reconfigured school finances to provide more money to districts with large numbers of poor and/or “English-learner” students – together nearly 60 percent of the state’s 6 million K-12 students.

Supposedly, this money will be used to close the “achievement gap” between them and their more affluent white and Asian American, English-speaking classmates.

However, the money is being parceled out with little, if any, accountability for how it’s spent or its effects on achievement levels of targeted kids.

The education establishment dislikes strict accountability for results, and it holds sway in the Capitol and the state Board of Education. Meanwhile, the governor and the Legislature have abolished the high school exit exam, which was supposed to guarantee that those receiving diplomas after 12 years of education were well-grounded.

A few weeks ago, The Sacramento Bee published a lengthy article that examined how graduates of Sacramento-area high schools were being prepared for college. It revealed that graduates of schools in poor and/or non-white neighborhoods routinely require extensive remedial schooling after enrolling in college.

Rates of remediation ranged as high as 89 percent among college-bound graduates of Sacramento’s Luther Burbank High School, which is nearly 100 percent non-white.

Clearly, the graduates of high schools with high remediation rates – supposedly the brightest members of their graduating classes – are not getting what they need to make a successful transition into college-level work.

There’s no reason to believe that what’s happening – or not happening – in the Sacramento area is atypical. More likely, it’s a microcosm of a statewide syndrome.

This is serious business. If we fail to produce the next generation of educated and skilled workers, our economy will suffer and we all will pay the price.

  Comments