Pacific Gateway, the workforce development arm of the City of Long Beach, provides workplace-related skills training to local residents who are underemployed or in need of employment. The agency also works with area employers to find and train local talent based on industry needs.
What do such efforts look like during a time of historically low unemployment for the City of Long Beach, the State of California and the nation as a whole? According to Nick Schultz, executive director of Pacific Gateway, many skills training requests the organization receives – both from employers and prospective workers – are related to basic communication and language skills. However, programming is “a constantly evolving menu based on what our employer base is telling us they’re looking for,” he noted.
“What we’re seeing now with the labor market and the available labor force, based on things being really tight, is we are having to work with adult education and think about . . . English language learners as our targets for those type of workshops,” Schultz said.
Many people who seek out Pacific Gateway for skills training have been disconnected from the labor force, and consequently need instruction centered on “basic employability” requirements, according to Schultz. These are often individuals who “haven’t succeeded in the educational system, haven’t been employed or gainfully employed, or haven’t been able to hold jobs,” he noted.
“I would say at this point in time we now hear three things from employers,” Schultz said. “There is a huge skill gap. It’s language skills, it’s problem solving skills, and it’s really the social-emotional skills to work with others and to be able to productively advance within the workplace. I would say those are the three things we hear the most.”
Asked why companies are struggling to find employees with basic interpersonal and communicative skillsets, Schultz said, “I don’t know where or when it became an issue. There is this default to want to blame it on the Millennial generation – and they are a large part of the workforce at this point in time. I am not sure that’s exactly it.”
He continued, “I think a lot of what we have seen is that folks who have been disadvantaged didn’t have access to quality child care or quality pre-K. So they were behind the curve in learning to begin with, and then they didn’t succeed in school.” In other words, he explained, disadvantaged communities often do not have key educational and foundational resources very early on, which adversely affects them both while in school and when they enter the workforce.
Pacific Gateway receives public funding to hold workshops for job seekers who wish to strengthen these skills, as well as to provide them with one-on-one career counseling. For those in need of more specialized training, Pacific Gateway partners with other local entities. For example, Pacific Gateway is able to subsidize training at outside institutions, such as Long Beach City College, for individuals who meet certain qualifications, Schultz noted. “We have a whole state-approved list of educational institutions, from certificate programs all the way up through degrees, that folks can pick from,” he said.
Pacific Gateway is also able to work with large employers to train prospective workers at local educational institutions, giving the employer the option of hiring them once the training is completed, Schultz noted. “Either we would identify the training provider from our list, or the employer would identify the provider, or the employer would do it in-house,” he explained.
On the job training is one of the most successful forms of skills education that Pacific Gateway provides, Schultz noted. “Probably our best placement success revolves around on the job training,” he said. To place an individual with an employer for on the job training, “We come up with a skill gap assessment and we agree on the amount of time it would take somebody working in that position to come up to speed to where the employer needs them to be fully productive and functioning,” Schultz said. “And then we subsidize the wages during that agreed upon training period for a portion of time.”
Pacific Gateway is also able to collaborate with local employers looking to staff up by creating specific training programs. For example, the agency has created a “patient care assistant” program with MemorialCare Health System to provide a pathway to employment at MemorialCare’s Long Beach institutions, such as Long Beach Medical Center and Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital. “Those types of programs are really designed with specific industry partners in mind to help them tap into availability in the labor market that they haven’t been able traditionally connect to themselves,” Schultz said.
The workforce development agency has some funding allocated for specific cohorts of jobseekers, such as individuals laid off from local firm Molina Healthcare after the company downsized, or those let go when MemorialCare closed Community Hospital. “There is a whole list of what we refer to as ‘target populations,’” Schultz said, noting that veterans, as well as youth aged 16 to 24, are some such groups.
Job seekers in need of skills training and other employment assistance are encouraged to drop by Pacific Gateway’s center at 4811 Airport Plaza Dr. Schultz suggested first visiting and familiarizing oneself with the center and its offerings, and then speaking with a Pacific Gateway representative about specific employment needs. “We always want [to place] somebody in a full time, self-sustaining, family-sustaining wage job,” he said. “But if you just need some stabilization, and we can do that by putting you in a part-time opportunity and tie some training on in addition with that, we’re open to any of those types of solutions to meet the circumstance of the individual.”
Schultz reflected, “We just need to get a good idea of where they’re at and what will work for them, and assess their suitability for the type of training they’re interested in. And then we make sure, based on our labor market analysis, that when they come out there is a relatively high chance that they are going to secure and be able to advance in a job.”