Got Manufacturing?
A skilled workforce grows manufacturing

by Jack Stewart, President CMTA & Art Pulaski, Executive-Secretary Treasurer and Chief Officer, California Labor Federation
Aug. 20, 2011
Cross-posted in the Press Enterprise

For many years, we didn't worry much about losing manufacturing investment and jobs in California. Our diverse economy spurred by innovation seemed to show endless capacity for growth. Now it's hard to find anyone who doesn't agree with the sentiment expressed by astronauts on Apollo 13 - "Sacramento - We've got a problem".

The question is whether we have the resources and the creativity to rebuild a strong manufacturing economy. We believe one answer is provided by SB 776, a bill to ensure that workforce training is a high priority in our state.

The stark reality is that a third of California's nation-leading manufacturing base has evaporated over the last decade -- including a 30 percent loss in Riverside County. Our state is among the worst in new manufacturing facility growth and more than two million Californians are unemployed, while hundreds of thousands more are "under-employed" or have simply given up on their search for a job.

California citizens and government are waking up to the need to reignite California's economic engine by adopting policies to keeping manufacturers in business and lure more industrial employers to the state. Innovation, high wage jobs ($69,000 average), vast supply chains, and spill over benefits to every other business in the economy come along with manufacturing growth.

A jumpstart for manufacturing could come from first building on our strengths, including a highly-skilled workforce. For decades California workers have been turning dreams into reality in the most dynamic economy on the planet. But will we have a workforce ready to fill jobs in a revitalized manufacturing sector? Only if we take strong action.

This was confirmed last month at the "Everything Grows with Manufacturing" Summit in Sacramento convened by the California Manufacturers & Technology Association (CMTA), the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA), the California Labor Federation and California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.

A diverse group of Californians -- including labor, investors, economists and policy leaders - agreed that a skilled workforce is one of the most important ingredients for a vibrant manufacturing sector and we are not paying enough attention to workforce training and skills development.

Advance manufacturing is a marvel of technology and innovation where workers operate sensitive equipment and are responsible for multi-million dollar facilities. The highly-skilled baby boomers in these jobs are beginning to retire. We depend on a pipeline of new workers from our public schools, but career technical training has been deemphasized for decades. Only 29 percent of high school students are now enrolled in at least one technical class -- down from 75 percent in 1990. If we do nothing, there will be a growing gap between the workers we have and the workers we need.

We need more support from business, educators, and parents to make sure students have access to this coursework in the future. It will take years to re-establish career technical courses in the public high school curriculum. It's not a quick fix.

Immediate help could come from the state's primary workforce training system (49 local Workforce Investment Boards, or "WIBs"). We are strong advocates for our local WIBs. We also support SB 776 which requires WIBs to dedicate by 2016 at least 25 percent of local Adult and Dislocated Worker Funds (WIA) on high quality skills training and intensive pre-employment services that best prepare people to succeed in training.

A recent Senate Office of Research report found that less than 20 percent of these federal workforce training dollars allocated to California are actually used for worker training. As a result, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, California is in the bottom half among the states in the number of individuals receiving training with local WIA dollars. We must do better.

Without SB 776 there is no requirement for WIB's to dedicate a single dollar to worker training in California. Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and other states already require that most WIA funds go to skills training. California should do the same to help attract our fair share of new manufacturing jobs.

CMTA and the California Labor Federation urge the California Legislature to help us deploy existing resources in the most effective way possible to improve the odds we will be able to find our way to a prosperous future.

Feature archive