September 19, 2019

We Can’t Afford to Leave Anyone Behind

Photo from Flickr

Preparing the workforce of the future can’t happen in silos. Training workers for the changing nature of jobs in the near future and beyond takes a joint effort, and business must play a key role in those partnerships. That was the important message that came out of the recent Business-Led Education town hall in Santa Monica, co-hosted by WorkingNation, the Milken Institute and the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation.

“We need to think about what the 21st-century workforce is going to look like, and unless we establish partnerships with business, education and government, people will be left behind,” said Kevin Klowden, executive director of the Milken Institute’s Center for Regional Economics and California Center. 

“We’ve come to think that there’s really not a solution in this talent space that doesn’t involve partnership,” said Jane Oates, president of WorkingNation, a nonprofit media company that reports on the future of work. 

Technology is changing what jobs look like faster than at any time in our history. Right now, there are millions of open jobs around the country and millions of job seekers. Unfortunately, there is a skills mismatch — employers are looking for workers with certain skills and those job seekers are coming up short. 

Jeanie Wade, Northrop Grumman’s head of human resources, said there is a huge demand at the Los Angeles-based company for “engineers, especially system engineers, mechanical engineers, aerospace engineers. The other area are technicians. These would be folks who would work on our assembly lines, manufacturing. We have a lot of employees who do assembly and fabrication for us.” Wade said the company may get 400 people applying for a job, but “most of our candidate don’t pass” the skills requirements, making it difficult to hire for the positions.

Making a connection between business needs and curriculum was at the forefront of the discussion. “Talent is equally distributed but opportunity is not,” said Soraya M. Coley, president of Cal Poly Pomona. She said her school has put a lot of emphasis on apprenticeships, working with local businesses to give students the chance to learn on the job. Another initiative, the Future of Work and Human and Civic Engagement, is “very intentional about not preparing our students for any particular job,” Coley said. “We’re more focused on what are the competencies, the knowledge-based experiences that our students need to have and how we help them think about being adaptive and engage in what is going to be the economy of change and disruption.”

Jay Banfield is the managing director for Year Up, a nonprofit that acts as an intermediary, connecting young adults who need opportunity with companies that need talent. Year Up has partnered with more than 300 companies across the country to provide opportunities through internships combined with classroom learning. “I guarantee you that every single one of [the companies] has talent acquisition at the top of their priority list. There is an appetite for companies to engage in this,” Banfield said. “Several decades ago, companies saw themselves as passive consumers of education. They see the need to be active now. To me, that is encouraging.”  

“Several decades ago, companies saw themselves as passive consumers of education. They see the need to be active now.” — Jay Banfield

Eloy Ortiz Oakley, chancellor of the California Community Colleges, concurred that communication is the greatest challenge. “There is a drive toward automation and the application of artificial intelligence, the skills are consistently changing and there is very little communication from the creators of this innovation and the way we are training the workforce,” Oakley said. “It is taking us way too much time to get students ready for the jobs being created, let alone jobs of the future.”

The makeup of the future workforce is a moving target. Working together, businesses, educators, civic leaders and nonprofits can address the needs of businesses, and the workers, to create a skilled workforce ready to fill those rapidly changing jobs.

Ramona Schindelheim is the senior business correspondent and executive producer for WorkingNation.