Pivot, Adapt, Retrain in California

Michael Bernick
Former California Employment Development Department Director & Milken Institute Fellow

Last week, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced a review of the workforce system in Los Angeles. The review is to be undertaken under former Councilmember Jan Perry current head of the new Economic Workforce Development Department. It is aimed at improving the processes of job training and especially of retraining.

f&hperryAny workforce review in California is to be welcomed. However, I would suggest that for greatest impact this review should look beyond the government-funded programs.  For from the start, it is likely to find two dynamics of retraining in Los Angeles and in California today.

First, the existing  Workforce Investment Act (WIA) retraining system is basically sound, with individualized employment plans, training in sectors with job growth, and training closely tied to identified job openings.

Second, much of retraining is happening outside of the WIA system, outside of the government-funded programs and traditional channels, and migrating to the educational programs and certification systems on the internet.

The challenge facing the workforce system throughout California is not so much how to improve the existing WIA funded retraining. It is how to link to and encourage this extra-governmental retraining, and when appropriate help best connect this retraining to jobs.

Constant upgrading of existing skills, pivoting to learn new skill areas, adapting to new business conditions: this is the mantra of job counselors, LinkedIn executives, and TED presenters. The United States Department of Labor now advises that today’s learners will average 10-14 different jobs—just by age 38. Employment success is tied to being in constant learning mode.

The WIA-based workforce system can be part of this lifelong learning. But an equal or greater part is the training system rapidly expanding outside of government. This system includes the numerous internet trainings offering certifications of skills mastery, such as Empowered.com, which offers certifications in project management, IT management, and health care management.  The system also includes the Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs), such as Udacity, Coursera and Khan Academy, which do not yet offer employment certifications, but are looking at doing so.

This emerging internet-based retraining system needs to be tracked, and also critically examined. Do the skills certifications truly assist in employment? Are certain certifications more valuable than others? Can the skills learned through Udacity or Khan Academy be translated into employment?

Statewide, we can all benefit from the Mayor Garcetti’s review, if it is broadly framed beyond the traditional training processes.

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