By Mary L. Walshok
If we all lived in Detroit, we wouldn’t have a problem defining our manufacturing sector. That’s a single-industry region where nearly everyone works in or around the automotive industry.
Such a description hardly applies to San Diego, where we make drones, golf equipment, surfboards, guitars, and beer — and, of course, biotech advances, aerospace components, industrial machinery, computer equipment, medical devices, information technologies, and electronics of all sorts.
Clearly, we’re not talking about your grandfather’s manufacturing.
The manufacturing industry in the U.S. has undergone a dramatic transformation; it’s not the kind of manufacturing it was decades ago. Today, San Diego’s advanced manufacturing careers are complex and diverse, requiring a myriad of high-tech skills in computers, high-precision instruments, robotics, and much more.
Based on research we recently conducted for the San Diego Workforce Partnership, the value of advanced manufacturing — which includes related R&D and technical services — to our regional economy is substantial:
- 10 percent of all companies;
- 15 percent of all paid employment;
- 22 percent of annual regional payroll; and
- 23 percent of our gross regional product
By any measure, advanced manufacturing is a growing force in San Diego County. In each of these highly-specialized industries, a wide range of technical and production skills are required.
This past year, there were close to 170,000 people working in design, fabrication, production and technical manufacturing in the region. More than 80 percent of these firms employ less than 20 people, small shops filled with highly-trained technicians.
Our data suggests that even the lowest-wage jobs in this sector are above minimum wage. So we should be celebrating and supporting the growth of these jobs.
Indeed, advanced manufacturing in our region has an economic impact that’s nearly equivalent to that of high tech.
While average high-tech salaries are higher — $75,000-plus for manufacturing and $100,000-plus for high-tech — advanced manufacturing is a significant employment sector that’s keeping a strong middle class in San Diego. It’s also helping innovative companies become more competitive.
In our view, advanced manufacturing includes a wide web of jobs in research and development, production, distribution, marketing, and management. The complexity of training for these jobs, however, makes it difficult for educators and institutions to design targeted curriculum to meet this increasing demand.
Our research revealed a large gap between available jobs and the training required to perform those jobs. Universities aren’t doing enough. Community colleges aren’t doing enough. Workforce partnerships need to re-think how they allocate resources. In this way, we can help to close that gap.
Today’s educational institutions have the ability to adapt and to change, to have the partnerships and institutional mechanisms so that we can quickly help more people re-focus, re-tool and re-skill as part of a life-long learning model. There’s plenty of evidence that our region has done this better than a lot of others throughout the state and nation.
Our challenge is: Can we continue to adapt?
For example, the career-bridging courses and certificate programs we offer at UC San Diego Extension offer pathways for someone with basic programming skills, even welding skills, to move into a new or more advanced career. We introduce them to the requirements, the materials, and the machines needed to enter these new industries.
Moreover, most of these courses are taught by professionals, experts in those industries, who provide the latest hand’s-on knowledge. In working together, instructors and students form networks that encourage learning and job advancement.
These types of bridge-to-employment programs at our universities — including community colleges — are becoming increasingly marginalized. In my view, as a region we need to put more funding and support behind them. Through close collaboration, I know we can do that successfully.
Mary L. Walshok, Ph.D., serves as UC San Diego’s associate vice chancellor of public programs, dean of UCSD Extension and adjunct professor of sociology. A subject matter expert on regional innovation economies, she is the author of “Closing America’s Job Gap,” which encourages the pursuit of life-long learning to ensure competitive companies and rewarding careers in the age of innovation.
>> Subscribe to Times of San Diego’s free daily email newsletter! Click hereFollow Us: