A few months back, I attended a chamber of commerce meeting in the L.A. area on workforce readiness. I was saddened when a local employer said she had a number of positions open all the time but no one came to apply. These were entry level positions that could lead to future careers remaining unfilled constantly. By the end of the meeting, the problem that became clear was a lack of cooperation and an agreed-upon common goal to fill these jobs and others like them.

In February, the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. delivered a letter to California legislators offering sensible reforms to the state college and university systems. At the heart of its proposal was a recommendation to align training around areas of future job growth.

In effect, the LAEDC put the spotlight squarely on a statewide, workforce-training problem – a burgeoning skills gap. Employers have jobs available for trained personnel ready to hit the ground equipped with technical skills; unfortunately, many of those looking for jobs don’t have the right skills.

As the LAEDC and other business groups have made clear, the skills gap has become so large that it is jeopardizing our fragile economic recovery. Employers in fields such as technology, health care and manufacturing say they cannot find the skilled workers needed for jobs that remain open for weeks and months.

At the same time, recent unemployment figures put the joblessness rate in Los Angeles County at 10.3 percent – a full 2.7 percentage points higher than the U.S. unemployment rate.

This is a problem that might only worsen. In Los Angeles, 75 percent of eighth-graders are below grade level in math and 75 percent of fourth-graders are reading below grade level. A staggering 21 percent of students in the Los Angeles Unified School District drop out, much less advance to college or specialized job training.

Encina Advisors, a Sacramento-based economic consulting firm, has looked closely at California’s skills gap and found that the demand for vocational training in Los Angeles County is 25 percent to 40 percent bigger than the supply of available classes in local community colleges.

The most alarming part of this report: Unfilled jobs will result in $17 billion in lost personal income countywide over the next decade.

More and more people affected by this workforce-training gap are nontraditional college students who are not necessarily on a fast track to a four-year degree and a professional position. Most of these students want to a credential that will help make them more employable or want to shift careers.

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