California Program Looks for Solutions to Skills Gap

Statewide SlingShot program aims to improve career opportunities and fill needed jobs

By Toni Vranjes September 27, 2017
California Program Looks for Solutions to Skills Gap

In Humboldt County, Cindy Harrington is trying to develop health care training programs in local high schools. The initiative will provide students with career opportunities in health care, and it also will provide a talent pipeline to the industry.

Three schools have already committed, and the goal is to launch the programs in 2018, said Harrington, executive director of the county workforce development board.

"The target industry is growing and offers a lot of opportunities," Harrington said.

The project is part of an employment initiative known as SlingShot—a statewide California Workforce Development Board (CWDB) initiative. The program aims to solve regional employment challenges in California through partnerships between government, employers, schools and other groups.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Managing the Hiring Process in California]

Program Overview

The origins of the SlingShot program date back about five years, said Tim Rainey, CWDB's executive director. "We started out trying to solve a pretty big problem in the workforce system," he said.

There were a lot of programs around California administered by many different agencies—with little coordination among them, Rainey said. State government officials wanted to align the programs behind a common vision and common goals. In each of 12 regions in California, they challenged community colleges and workforce boards to reach out to industry and come up with a problem that needed to be solved. The state offered each region $1 million for their projects if they met certain requirements.

The program tries to connect workers to open jobs—or to jobs that are projected to be open in the future. "This is a connection of supply and demand," Rainey said. Other goals are to create more industry-valued credentials and more apprenticeships, he added.

The state has launched an evaluation of the SlingShot program, but the results aren't available yet.

Humboldt County

Humboldt County program leaders chose health care as the target industry because more health care job openings are anticipated over time, Harrington said. Employment in the health care field is expected to increase 19 percent from 2014 to 2024, which is expected to result in about 2.3 million new jobs, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data.

In addition to creating training programs in high schools, the local initiative is trying to boost the health care curriculum in other ways. For instance, a program to help registered nurses earn their Bachelor of Science in nursing degree will be created through a collaboration with the College of the Redwoods and Humboldt State University.

San Francisco Bay Area

Other projects in California also provide a glimpse into the world of SlingShot. In San Francisco, Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, the SlingShot program is being used to increase access to the "innovation economy," said regional SlingShot program manager Luther Jackson. Three local workforce boards—NOVA Workforce Board in Santa Clara County, San Jose's work2future and San Francisco's board—have partnered for the program.

The focus is on two sets of tech skills: digital advertising and DevOps, which involves collaboration between software development and IT operations.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau has voiced a need for greater diversity in the digital advertising field, Jackson said. This includes women, minorities and veterans. "There's a need for people with digital skills, and a particular need for diverse populations," he added.

The bureau, which had created an education initiative called iDiverse, approached NOVA for help with its efforts. The bureau wanted to create a certificate program to prepare people for entry-level positions in digital advertising. Now, a digital advertising program is underway at the College of San Mateo.

"We're working with the college district and consultants to experiment and pilot various approaches to recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce," Jackson said.

The second focus area, DevOps, is a synthesis of software development, software quality assurance and IT operations. Companies and recruiters say there's strong demand for people with these skills, according to Jackson. However, employers are confronting a major shortage of computer science professionals. By 2020, about 1.4 million computer science positions will be available, but there will be only 400,000 people with the skills for these jobs, according to BLS data.

To address the skills gap, the local SlingShot program is working to enhance DevOps programs at community colleges. A software company called CollabNet is a key player in these efforts.

Inland Empire

In Riverside and San Bernardino counties, the SlingShot program focuses on health care and manufacturing.

As part of the health care project, the initiative seeks to develop talent for community health worker (CHW) jobs, which serve as a bridge between health care and social services in the community.

To develop a pipeline for these jobs, University of California Riverside Extension will launch a new specialized program, said Jennifer Campbell, coordinator for the CHW program. The program's focus will include care management and soft skills.

According to BLS data, CHW jobs are expected to grow 13 percent from 2014 to 2024.

As part of the manufacturing effort, the local initiative has trained workers to be industrial electrical technicians. Chaffey College's InTech center, located in Fontana, has offered such training.

InTech took one of its programs for industrial electrical technicians and modified it based on SlingShot requirements. This was done with input from employers, said Sandra Sisco, director of economic development at InTech. The students receive certifications through the National Center for Construction Education and Research.

The training helps students land entry-level positions in the field, Sisco said. For the SlingShot program at InTech, seven of the 16 trainees were placed into jobs.

There's a huge need for these workers because of a couple of factors, according to Sisco. For one thing, retirements are leading to many open positions. Also, students either don't know about these careers or their parents are steering them into four-year universities instead of the technical trades, she noted.

Toni Vranjes is a freelance business writer in San Pedro, Calif.


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