The so-called innovation economy is driving job growth in San Diego, but not everyone is poised to reap its benefits. The city is grappling with a skills gap, according to a new report by Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s workforce development task force, which found that in particular, healthcare, manufacturing and technology sector employers are struggling to hire trained individuals for what are often high-wage positions.
“Despite positive economic trends and growing numbers of jobs available in San Diego County, employers still have difficulty finding qualified workers to fill these jobs,” states the report. “Many of the well-paying jobs of today require more skills than the jobs of the past.”
A Brookings report last year found that of the 100 largest U.S. metro areas, many were not well situated with residents trained to fill many tech jobs.
In Southern California, the San Diego task force is recommending eight strategies to increase workforce training and education within five high-wage, high-demand, high-growth priority sectors: advanced manufacturing, clean technology and energy, healthcare, information technology, and life science/biotech.
Many of the recommendations to increase participation in these sectors focus on the potential of public-private partnerships and opportunities for youth. According to the report, educational attainment in San Diego has not changed since 2004.
The task force recommends working with major companies to create learning centers focused on the priority sectors, modeled after Qualcomm’s Thinkabit Lab, a combination of classroom and maker space that introduces middle-school students to STEM careers. It also recommends creating “bridge programs” to connect graduating high-school seniors entering community college with industry training. Last fall, Microsoft partnered with New York City to launch the Tech Jobs Academy.
Engaging employers emerged as a challenge in this process, the task force notes in the report, elaborating that to really improve outcomes for students and young people, the mayor needs to incentivize businesses to provide “meaningful work experiences for San Diego youth.” To that end, the report recommends the mayor’s office organize a Workforce Cabinet drawn from the education and business communities, and launch a campaign encouraging businesses to create summer jobs and internships. San Jose is one city that recently revamped its youth jobs initiative, in terms of outreach to young people and strengthening employers’ handling of young interns. The San Diego report also points to Boston, where a combination of public and private funding create thousands of youth jobs every summer.
“Educators haven’t been involved with how our federal dollars are spent and businesses haven’t been looped in to be a part of hiring young people from our community,” Matt Awbrey, the mayor’s chief of communications, said. “It’s great to give people skills, but if they can’t find a job, there’s still a problem.”
The Equity Factor is made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation.
Jen Kinney is a freelance writer and documentary photographer. Her work has also appeared in Philadelphia Magazine, High Country News online, and the Anchorage Press. She is currently a student of radio production at the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies. See her work at jakinney.com.