BY COURTENAY EDELHART Californian staff writer email@example.com
Local employers have long complained that they have trouble finding well-educated talent to fill vacancies. A new study from the Brookings Institution has hammered the point home.
The Bakersfield-Delano market has a larger gap between workforce education levels and the years of education needed for the region's average job opening than the rest of the country, but the nation as a whole has a problem, too.
The Washington, D.C.,-based think tank's report, "Education, Job Openings, and Unemployment in Metropolitan America," analyzed educational requirements for new jobs in the nation's 100 largest metro areas.
The issue is important for economic development because cities with wide education gaps have higher unemployment, and cities with narrow education gaps have lower unemployment, more job creation and more job openings, said Jonathan Rothwell, senior research associate and report author.
"It's a long-run challenge to turn around because it can really only be resolved by improving local education or attracting more educated people to move there, and neither one of those is particularly easy," he said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
Unemployment rates are 2 percentage points higher in metro areas with a shortage of educated workers and have been consistently higher since before the recession, according to the report.
To compare markets, Brookings created an index with a base of zero. Markets scoring below zero had a good ratio between the demand for and supply of education. In markets that scored above zero, employers had trouble finding sufficiently educated workers.
Bakersfield-Delano had an education gap of 1.11, compared with an average 1.05 for the nation's 100 largest metro areas.
That's looking at the number of adults age 25 or older who hold more than a high school diploma.
Across all metro areas, 43 percent of job openings typically require a bachelor's degree or higher, but just 32 percent of adults have earned one.
For every unemployed worker, the Bakersfield-Delano market has roughly 10 times more job openings for the highly educated than it has for the less educated, according to the report.
Although those numbers are troubling, they're getting better, said Mark Evans, a professor of economics at Cal State Bakersfield.
The raw number of people ages 18 to 24 who participated in training or education beyond high school increased by 53 percent in Kern County between 2005 and 2010, compared to 36 percent for the nation, he said.
"It's like a great big ship. You can't turn it around right away, but there is evidence we're catching up a little bit," Evans said.
The local business community has invested heavily in programs to grow its own talent because people born and raised here are more likely to stay, whereas those recruited from outside the area tend to leave after building their resume, Evans said.
And with the slowly recovering housing market, the region is gradually winning back its biggest selling point for wooing outsiders: affordable housing and a reasonable cost of living, he added.
"We had just about lost that during the housing boom," Evans said.