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California's new economy: Running on empty

Posted by Jack Stewart, President on April 27, 2008

California is at a crossroads.  For twenty years we have neglected career technical education (CTE) in our public schools.  Each year the number of CTE courses offered to our students declines and, as a result, the number of CTE teachers and CTE student enrollments are at historic lows.

At the same time, the demand for skilled workers is growing and in many industries the demand has already outpaced the number of available workers.  Add to that dilemma the oncoming flood of baby boom retirements and the job demands of an emerging green economy and California’s economic engine could quickly run out of gas.

In his Sunday column, Dan Weintraub reports the upcoming flood of baby boom retirements will number between 2.4 and 2.7 million over the next ten years.  Weintraub puts those numbers into perspective: "250,000 to 300,000 job openings a year from retirements would just about equal the number of new jobs created annually in California between 1996 and 2006."

Add to those numbers the 89,000 new green jobs California’s global warming mandate is projected to create (view report) and the magnitude of the problem is quite clear.

Assembly candidate Dominic Caserta writes in the San Jose Mercury News that "At a January new-energy summit in San Francisco, corporate and government leaders bemoaned the shortage of qualified workers." and that "Our vocational and career-tech system should spearhead such training, but it's not known or stigmatizing for many students. And while community colleges can help fill gaps, many young people never set foot on another campus after high school."

A large majority of the new and replacement jobs will not require a four-year degree.  Most can be filled by new workers who receive 21st century technical training in their high schools and/or skills training in local community colleges.  Yet California’s education establishment increasingly insists that that every high school student be prepared for admission to a four-year university.

California needs to rethink our educational priorities and match our high school curriculum to real world job opportunities.  And, we need more clear thinkers like Dominic Caserta participating in the education reform debate.




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