San Diego needs more skilled workers. Can they be found here?

San Diego’s business leaders want the next generation of skilled workers to come from El Cajon instead of New York.

Given the high cost of housing and other factors, recruiting the best workers to come to San Diego can be difficult for the region’s more cutting-edge businesses.

With that in mind, the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp. launched a campaign last week to double the number of skilled workers the county produces each year. Several large companies including Northrop Grumman, Qualcomm, Thermo Fisher Scientific signed off on the plan, which is called “Building San Diego’s Talent Pipeline” — to add up 20,000 skilled workers a year by 2030.

The plan mainly focuses on grooming a new local workforce by reaching out to students as young as grade school to encourage an interest in certain jobs, as well as working with the region’s companies to chart hiring progress.

“If we can get more people that grow up here equipped to fill the jobs that we need to fill going forward, they are more likely to stay put because they have family, a home base, social networks,” said Eduardo Velasquez, research manager at the EDC.

Researchers said the jobs that will be in high demand are all part of what they call the “innovation economy” and include software developers, computer systems analysts, industrial engineers, biological technicians and aerospace engineers.

This new campaign follows an effort the EDC launched in May to help local business leaders attract talent from the science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, world. Recruiters say they have difficulty getting workers to come to San Diego because of a belief there are not enough big companies — or jobs — outside of Qualcomm compared to Silicon Valley, which is perceived to have much more opportunity.

In addition to getting the next generation thinking about their future career, the EDC also wants employers to hire more of San Diego County’s population that doesn’t often end up in the innovation economy.

Innovation jobs in San Diego County are typically held by whites (52 percent ) and Asians (24 percent.) Latinos make up 17 percent and African-Americans, 4 percent, the EDC said.

Of particular note is that 48 percent of all seventh graders in the county are Latino, but are traditionally the group least likely to a get a college education. Velasquez said they will make up the next generation of workers so it is important for them to get involved early.

The corporation is asking employers to share workforce data with them long-term to see how efforts are working.

Migration data shows that the people leaving San Diego County tend to have lower incomes, but a better job might slow the tide. The corporation’s research shows annual earnings per worker in the innovation economy is about $69,000 more than an average San Diego worker.

The corporation said there are now about 10,000 post-secondary degrees earned in San Diego County related to requirements needed for the innovation economy. But, they project by 2028 that there will be 20,000 jobs in that economy that will need to be filled.

San Diego-based recruiter Bob Watkins, owner of R.J. Watkins & Co., said he has found recently that many of these innovation jobs that he needs to get filled could be done without a bachelor’s degree. Provided a company is willing to put in time to teach workers and allow for continuing education, he said some higher education requirements might be unnecessary.

“In my experience, companies will say they need a ‘bachelor’s degree minimum’ but when you break the job down,” he said, “it can be done by someone with an associate’s degree or someone with a high school degree.”

Watkins said filling these future innovation jobs with a San Diego-based workforce needs massive buy-in from the education community, and he’s not sure it is realistic. He pointed to Baja California as an additional place to get new workers and Thermo Fisher Scientific’s efforts to establish a software hub in Tijuana.

In a perfect world, Watkins said he hoped that a program in the United Kingdom that requires coding class across all primary and secondary schools could be implemented locally.

Velasquez said some of the ways it will track progress are by monitoring annual post-secondary completions, educational attainment by Census tract, graduation rates by ethnicity and academic performance by school.

“It’s the first step of a really long process,” he said.

Officials from local companies that have already endorsed the regional goal include Cox Communications, the San Diego Padres, ResMed, Kaiser Permanente, Manpower San Diego, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Qualcomm, Thermo Fisher Scientific and Brown Law Group.

phillip.molnar@sduniontribune.com (619) 293-1891 Twitter: @phillipmolnar

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