Southern California consortium to create Center for a Competitive Workforce

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Workers with specialized skills are more important than ever to Southern California’s economy. But that trend has pushed many unskilled workers aside while also leaving employers scrambling to fill openings.

A regional consortium of Southland organizations and community colleges is hoping to solve that dilemma.

Los Angeles County’s 19 community colleges, including Pasadena City College and Mt. San Antonio College, have agreed to partner in the region’s first center dedicated to training students for today’s highly skilled and technical jobs.

Called the Center for a Competitive Workforce, the facility is intended to deliver on the vision of the statewide Strong Workforce Program, which seeks to better align school curriculums with employers’ real-world needs.

Also involved are the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, the Southern California Leadership Council and the Center of Excellence For Labor Market Research at Mt. SAC. The facility will be housed at LAEDC’s downtown Los Angeles office.

The newly formed coalition is looking to create industry-driven education and workforce programs that target growth sectors in L.A. County, including advanced transportation, aerospace, bioscience, entertainment/digital media, health services and trade and logistics.

Changing economy

“We have to get this right,” said Dave Flaks, the LAEDC’s president and chief operating officer. “Our economy is transitioning from one where labor is the primary factor to one where knowledge is the primary factor.”

Because of that, Flaks said, some jobs employing many Southern California residents now will eventually go away.

Recent figures from Ball State University’s Center for Business and Economic Research reveal that one in four American jobs are at risk of being shipped overseas in the coming years. Even more disturbing is the prediction that half of nation’s jobs may some day be lost to automation.

The study found that workers who are most at risk of losing their jobs to automation earn less than $38,000 a year and those least at risk earn an average of $84,000 a year.

The newly formed coalition will address some of those talent gaps in the current workforce.

“We want to establish an equilibrium,” Flaks said.

Theresa Oliver, who co-owns ARCpoint Labs of Santa Fe Springs, said specific skills are needed to work there. The company does drug and alcohol testing, DNA testing and even infidelity testing.

“We’ve been pretty lucky in terms of being able to find people whose skills are in close proximity of what we are looking for,” she said. “But in our line of business everything is still a learning curve. We need to train people on our guidelines and the federal standards that are required. You have to go through federal testing before you can be a certified collector.”

Specific skill sets are likewise needed at Duke System Logistics in the City of Industry.

Joyce Yang, who works in the company’s import department, said workers there must be fluent in a variety of computer skills.

“Everything used to be paper documentation but now it’s all electronically filed,” she said. “All of our employees have to be handy with a computer because everyone uses the same system. We use QuickBooks and other programs like that. You have to be very hands-on.”

A big role

Richard Verches, interim director for the Los Angeles/Orange County Regional Consortium of Community Colleges, said the schools will initially invest about $450,000 in the program.

“The investment will be centered around data, research and analysis,” he said. “We’ll be looking at economic intelligence, labor trends and information regarding investments in education and student outcomes. We want to prepare them for a competitive workforce so they can meet the needs of employers in high-growth industries. It will be a much more strategic approach to education.”

The consortium plans to strengthen employer engagement with local community colleges as well as workforce boards, adult schools, nonprofits and four-year colleges. It’s also looking to increase internship and apprenticeship opportunities for students, job seekers, hard-to-place workers and others looking to transition into high-value, high-wage jobs.

“We want to narrow the skills gap, the talent gap — and ultimately, the knowledge gap,” Verches said. “And many of these new jobs don’t require bachelor’s degrees. It’s up-skilling for transferable skills, and community colleges are the institution that can deliver on that.”

Lori Sanchez, director of Mt. SAC’s Center of Excellence For Labor Market Research, said she’s excited about the program. The school’s center serves 28 community colleges throughout Los Angeles and Orange County.

“We provide research and data analysis for changing workforce needs but we’ve never had the kind of economic intelligence that comes out of the LAEDC,” she said. “This will help us to provide educational programs that help students stay relevant and remain competitive with changing employer workforce needs.”



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