California budgets more for apprenticeships, adult education

After several lean budget years in California, Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed 2015-2016 budget contained good news for education, especially for career education programs aimed at putting adult learners on strong career paths.

Brown's budget statement emphasizes that adult education programs such as apprenticeships and short-term, career-technical classes should provide skills in high demand occupations.

The governor's budget boosts funding for apprenticeship programs back to the 2007-2008 level. For the past few years, these programs have been funding the budget shortfall from reserve funds and special grants.

As part of the $1.2 billion pledged toward adult education, the Budget provides $29.1 million in Proposition 98 General Fund money for expansion of apprenticeship programs.

This includes $14.1 million to increase capacity in existing apprenticeship programs and $15 million to create innovative apprenticeship demonstration projects that focus on new and emerging industries with employment opportunities available for skilled workers.

While it's by no means assured these funds will survive the legislative process to make it into the final version of the state budget, Brown's proposal sends an important message reaffirming the importance of workforce training as a top priority for the state. And it could not come at a better time, especially where the state's construction industry is concerned.

In a survey of more than 1,000 U.S. construction firms nationwide by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), 83 percent report having a hard time filling craft professional positions.

Combined with the construction industry's accelerated growth rate over the next few years, the Construction Labor Market Analyzer (CLMA), a labor market intelligence tool, predicts the construction industry will see a workforce shortage of two million craft professionals by 2018.

This predicted shortage will ultimately cause schedule delays and increase construction costs, which affects taxpayers who are funding public projects, and individuals when buying new homes.

Figures like these underscore how important it is that all construction companies commit to recruiting new workers and preparing their existing workforce for upcoming projects.

Brown also discussed during his budget announcement the $66 billion backlog in deferred maintenance on transportation infrastructure projects, and the backlog in constructing K-12 schools.

He proposed creation of “Enhanced Infrastructure Financing Districts,” allowing cities and counties to access new funding streams including private financing for badly needed repairs and maintenance projects. This has the potential to create a steady source of employment, but only for those who have the job skills.

This is precisely the time to capitalize on this opportunity created by industry to recruit and train skilled workers.

Combined with the reauthorization in 2014 by Congress of the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act that strongly aligns with the state's approach, this investment in our workforce can provide high-quality careers in industries looking for trained professionals.

As part of Brown's initiatives, programs including apprenticeship training, will target special populations including veterans, the disabled, CalWORKS recipients and other disadvantaged groups most in need of assistance.

The Associated Builders and Contractors of San Diego has focused on outreach to recently discharged military veterans with apprenticeship opportunities to help them transition their skills to civilian careers. The construction industry will benefit from the diversity efforts within these state-funded programs.

The governor emphasized the need for adult education course offerings to be linked with regional economic needs to provide clear pathways to in-demand jobs.

The community college chancellor and the superintendent of public instruction will jointly approve allocation of funds to each regional consortium, with an emphasis on providing funds to regions with the greatest need for adult education.

Money provided to each consortium will be allocated by a local board designated by consortium members and will be required to annually report its progress toward fulfilling adult education plans.

The next steps toward making Brown's proposals a reality include an analysis of the budget proposal by the Legislative Analyst's Office, and a review by legislative committees.

Revenue projections will be revised in May before a final budget is likely passed in June. If this is something you support, it's not too soon to contact your state assembly member or state senator, and urge him or her to support this plan.

We are all quick to complain when something is wrong. This time, let's voice our support for something our state officials have gotten right.

Smyth is chief financial officer of Sherwood Mechanical and chairman of the Associated Builders and Contractors San Diego Apprenticeship Training Trust board of trustees.

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