UCSD duo’s book suggests ways to close job gap
By Kathy Day
Put two educators who develop programs for extended learning in a room with an economist who studies technology and innovation, and you’re bound to generate an interesting discussion.
In one particular case, the discussion evolved into the book: “Closing America’s Job Gap: How to Grow Companies and Land Good Jobs in the Age of Innovation.”
Its authors are Mary Walshok, UCSD’s associate vice chancellor for public programs and dean of the University Extension program; Henry DeVries, UCSD assistant dean of Extension, and Tapan Munroe, an economist who specializes in environmental economics and analysis of the high-tech industry.
Walshok said she was getting ready to write a book about innovation and in talking with DeVres and with inspiration from Munroe, they decided that innovation alone wasn’t the right topic. She had just returned from Washington, D.C., and talks about the state of the economy when they decided to key in on the fact that “America is not putting people to work,” she said in a recent interview, with DeVries interjecting, “It’s a jobless recovery.”
“Too many Americans expect the old jobs to come back,” Walshok said. Instead, they should be looking at “what jobs are there and what job can I create for myself.”
As they talked, both said, the book came into focus: How to close the jobs gap.
“We built on our knowledge as educators,” she said, looking at retooling, re-skilling and re-educating. “We know that’s going to be essential across all jobs careers.”
Instead of thinking just about innovation, they wrote about how technology can change careers.
They split the book into two sections. One analyzes the job gap and “the disparity between the good jobs being created by small busines-innovation in the U.S. and the lack of American workers with the skills to fill these jobs.” The other examines San Diego as a case study, looking at how it has used its universities, entrepreneurial spirit, collaboration and training to build its economy and applies those lessons to the workforce.
The San Diego example, they write, shows that if a region is serious “about innovation and job creation” they should bring together the “research community, the entrepreneurs and investors, the economic developers, and the educators and workforce-training organizations.”
The work wraps up with an extensive addendum they called “Deeper Reflections on Innovation and Job Creation.”
Sixteen sectors are creating jobs today, DeVries said, citing health-information technology, data mining, and Spanish-English translation and interpretation. And in some instances, there is a shortage of qualified employees. He pointed to Northrop Grumman, which has hundreds of openings in San Diego and Qualcomm, whose founder recently testified before Congrees about the need for visa programs so they can find enough engineers and technical people.
The book tells individual stories of people closing the jobs gap. He cited one woman, who had been trained as a teacher. Unable to find a job in education, she took a position as a hotel desk clerk. Startled by the amount of waste the hotel generated, she started a recycling program and found a program offering a certificate in Sustainable Business Practices. After landing an internship in Pasadena with Waste Less Living, she is now a sales consultant with the company, she teaching others — including children — how to reduce waste.
The goal of programs that offer specialized training is to help people build a bridge from where they were to where the economy is going, Walshok noted.
DeVreis added that their book is not just about training the workers. Employers, too, need to be aware of the jobs gap and offer time off for training as well as funding to improve and update their employees’ skills.
The interviews they have done about the book across the country have reinforced the fact that “everything in America is local,” Walshok said. “If you are going to solve the jobs problem in Toledo, you will have to have a different set of skills than if you are in San Diego.” That points up the fallacy, she added, that we think national policies can solve the problem. Rather, she added, the national policy “needs to empower the local community.”
She said she made that point in an interview on the Bloomberg News Channel in which the other interview subject — speaking from a different locale — was President Obama.
“We need government investing from the bottom up, not the top down,” she added, suggesting that funds that “prime the pump” through matching grants and community college programs are ways to leverage the spending.
But closer to home, DeVries said people need to take charge of their futures by updating their skills and understanding technology. Employers, he said, “want people who are willing to learn.”
A bachelor’s degree, the pair agreed, “is a license to learn for the world of work.”
But a specialized certificate these days may be the icing on the cake that sells the employer on the prospective hire’s knowledge of today’s workplace.
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