Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders recently approved a plan to repair our state’s aging roads and bridges bringing economic and workforce issues to the forefront of the conversation. Modernizing infrastructure deserves to be a top public priority, but for workers to benefit and prosper in our economy, they must have access to necessary skills.

A generation ago, high school graduates could aspire to apply for jobs at local manufacturing or warehouse facilities, work there for their entire careers, and earn wages that would allow them and their families to maintain a middle-class lifestyle. This is no longer the case. 

According to the Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce, 65 percent of all jobs in the U.S. will require some sort of postsecondary education by 2020.

Low-skilled manufacturing and warehouse jobs are decreasing, and job opportunities are constantly evolving alongside technological advancements in our rapidly changing economy. 

According to researchers from Oxford University, 47 percent of American workers have jobs that are at a high risk of being automated in the future. These include delivery drivers, receptionists, security guards, cashiers, telemarketers and accountants. A 2015 report by McKinsey found that the majority of tasks performed in sectors like manufacturing and food service can already be automated with current technology.

Today’s and tomorrow’s workers must have the skills to adapt as old jobs retire and new ones are born. The modern day economy is unforgiving of low-skilled workers, so training and education will become increasingly important.

Employers currently depend on workforce training programs, such as those provided by the 113-campus California Community Colleges system, to train and educate workers for a vast range of industry sectors. With more than 2.6 million students, ours is the largest education system in the nation. While also preparing students for admission to a four-year university, we provide career technical education training for those eager to enter the job market. 

Throughout our state students can choose from more than 200 different business and CTE pathways, such as agriculture equipment operator, nuclear medicine technologist, computer science, electrical technology, construction management, digital media, computer assisted design and wind-solar-geothermal. 

While a quality four-year degree has undeniable value in today’s job market, so does CTE training. This is a critical pipeline to career success that has been historically under-recognized in our country. 

As the largest college system in the nation, we are changing the way CTE is delivered. Our Strong Workforce Program, supported by the Legislature and governor, is producing more and better opportunities for students to get into the jobs of today and the skills of tomorrow. This effort is leading to more program offerings, curriculum approval that moves at the speed of the economy, and better connections with industry and K-12, among other things.

We encourage employers and elected officials to visit with our college leaders and learn how these changes can be powerful forces for unlocking social mobility in our state. We also want students to engage in career exploration and fully consider all postsecondary education options available to them, including CTE programs that lead to good paying jobs. One new exploration tool for students of all ages is our new mobile app called Here to Career

I am confident our nation will continue to prosper and lead our world in innovation and economic progress. I see a bright future for our industries and workforce. I hope our state’s leaders will act to make the proper investments in our workforce infrastructure so these brilliant young minds can not only fill the jobs of the future, but create them. 

Eloy Ortiz Oakley is the chancellor for the 113-campus California Community Colleges. He can be contacted at

News, Workforce / Skills Gap