There is a troubling chasm in the world of work today and it threatens U.S. prosperity and hopes of strengthening the middle class.
Millions of Americans — including those in historic working-class manufacturing states — find themselves disconnected from the economy. Even here in California, many workers worry they do not have the skills to land or keep good-paying jobs. This is felt most acutely by older workers who feel stranded without new skills.
Today there are 6.8 million unemployed Americans actively looking for a job. At the same time, employers across the country struggle to find workers with the right skills to fill jobs in industries that are quickly evolving because of factors like globalization and technology.
Closing this skills gap is imperative and employers and educators must work together in this effort. In California, we are doubling down on delivering more and better career education opportunities so that both students and employers benefit.
Employers seek workers who understand technology and have the skills and flexibility to adapt to ever-changing circumstances.
Last month, the president announced a focus on apprenticeship and we applaud this recognition of industry-led, work-based learning. However, proposed federal budget cuts impacting the nation’s job training programs will result in fewer opportunities for Americans to gain the skills they need to participate in the economy in a meaningful way.
Indeed, the cuts are so concerning that the National Governors Association took the unusual step of submitting a letter to congressional budget authors asking that they prioritize funding for career and technical education in next year’s budget.
We commend their letter and the reasoning behind it.
The California Community College system is our nation’s largest provider of career education programs and we understand that it costs much more to provide career training than traditional classroom learning. Currently funded programs are the backbone sources of funding for community colleges across the country that are educating workers for the jobs of today and tomorrow.
It is estimated that by 2020, 65% of all jobs in the U.S. economy will require some form of training beyond high school. Career education (at both the high school and college level), which includes hands-on training and apprenticeships, is critical to both America’s workers and U.S. economic competitiveness.
Technology training is becoming essential for all aspects of our employment needs and it requires more of an investment, not less.
And career programs work. Workforce training programs, such as those provided by the California Community Colleges system, train workers for a vast range of industry sectors, including manufacturing, energy and extraction, trade, agriculture, technology, hospitality, health care, small business and more.
But there’s still much work to be done. The “skills gap” is real and will only grow in the coming years unless we act to ensure that our students have the education opportunities in place to train them for the jobs of today—and tomorrow.
Congress must act to protect our global competitiveness and the promise of an ever-growing economy by restoring proposed cuts.
Fully funding career training programs is consistent with President Donald Trump’s message to improve our economy and our workforce by investing in the future.
Eloy Ortiz Oakley is chancellor of the California Community Colleges and a member of the California Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors; Allan Zaremberg is CalChamber president and CEO.