California remains one of the top science and technology states in the country, but is not keeping pace in its high-tech workforce development, according to the most recent analysis by the Milken Institute.
The State Technology and Science Index, produced by the Milken Institute’s California Center, tracks and examines important factors behind technology-based economic development in the United States. The index is intended to help break down the components that allow leading states to build and maintain their preeminence in high technology, and help others to develop their strengths in the field.
California’s overall ranking in 2014 was 3rd, behind Massachusetts and Maryland – the same ranking California was awarded when the Index was started in 2002. However, while the state’s overall standing has remained fairly constant since then and has seen increased patents and venture capital, California’s investment in human capital – one of the five primary categories used to calculate the rankings – has slipped in the same period from 4th to 17th.
“California’s recovering is being led heavily by the tech sector,” said Kevin Klowden, Milken Institute’s managing economist and co-author of the report, in a statement to the press. “However, whole chunks of the state are not particularly tech centered.”
The need for more focus on building California’s high-tech workforce, particularly by enhancing STEM education, has long been a concern. A task force initiated by State Superintendent Tom Torlakson and Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla released a blueprint on ways to improve STEM education this summer, seeking to capitalize on various transitions currently underway in the California education system. The state also designated the week of December 8 as Computer Science Education Week, seeking to “highlight…how computer science enables innovation and creates economic opportunities.”
Another recent response to the concern about STEM education is the new “InnovationMaker” grant series announced by the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, awarding $1.2 million in grants to 10 community college districts with existing Teacher Preparation Pipeline programs in order to more effectively recruit and train students for careers as teachers in STEM disciplines.
“Cultivating an innovation worker begins with the effective recruitment and training of STEM teachers,” said California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice W. Harris in a press release. “If we want more diversity in the STEM technician occupations that drive many of our regional economies, like those in biotech, healthcare, and energy, let’s inspire students by giving them diverse role models in STEM teaching positions.”
The grant addresses the critical need for teachers with STEM backgrounds in California. California’s demand for new math and science teachers in the next 10 years is expected to exceed 33,000, far surpassing the number of STEM teachers that the state is expected to produce.
“Employers across California have voiced significant frustration that there are inadequate or undependable talent pools in STEM fields,” said CCST Board Member Van Ton-Quinlivan, vice chancellor of workforce and economic development at the Chancellor’s Office. “InnovationMaker grants aim to improve training efforts that can reliably deliver on the skillsets needed by employers to create more jobs.”