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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

County Has Plenty of Jobs Looking for Skilled Workers

May 24, 2000|TONY LYSTRA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

VENTURA — High-tech and health-care industries are expanding so rapidly in Ventura County that there are not enough skilled workers to keep up with the number of jobs available, according to a report released Tuesday.

The dearth of qualified employees prompted industry representatives to appeal to educators during a meeting with local college officials, asking them to train knowledgeable workers--and do it quickly.

"There are good jobs out there that are not being filled because people don't have the skills," said William H. Lawson of Ventura-based Lawson Consulting Group, which compiled the study that was presented at Ventura's Clarion Beach Hotel.

Community colleges in this area need to collaborate with one other and with other job-training programs to pump students into the work force, industry representatives and educators agreed. In many cases, employers don't even require an associate's degree from potential hires. Frequently, a three- or four-month training program will do.

"We're finding it's not such a need for the degree. It's really the skill," said Sharon Dwyer, director of resource development for Ventura College. Businesses "want something quick. They don't have the time and resources to commit" to long-term training programs.

The report, known as the 2000 Regional Economic Development Plan, was released by the Community College Training Connection, a consortium of eight community colleges that includes Ventura, Moorpark and Oxnard colleges.

It identified 11 burgeoning industries in Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and northern Los Angeles counties, including biotechnology, computer technology, e-business, environmental technology, entertainment, telecommunications, manufacturing, public safety and several facets of the health-care industry.

Paul Marshall, senior director of operations for the biotech firm Baxter Heath Care Corp., said he hopes to expand his company's Thousand Oaks manufacturing facility from 320 workers to 520 by the end of the year. But Marshall does not think that goal is obtainable.

And of those 200 openings, Baxter is seeking only 16 people with at least five years' experience in the industry. So far, he's only been able to find one. "There are no manufacturing people out there to hire," he said.

Likewise, Claudia Rosenfeld, vice president of human resources for the Health Care Assn. of Southern California, said the region is facing a frightening shortage of registered nurses and other health-care jobs, such as radiological, cardiovascular and ultrasound technicians. Attrition rates in registered-nurse education programs has risen in recent years from 10% to 40%, she said. The average age of nurses in California is 46, and a third of them are 50 or older.

As those nurses retire, there aren't enough young people replacing them, Rosenfeld said. And as the baby boomers age, the region is headed for a serious crunch in health-care services, she predicts.

With roughly 80% of nurses coming out of three-year community college programs, Rosenfeld wants to see an increase in government funding to create more nursing programs and a corresponding increase in the number of graduates.

The challenge, she said, is "finding young people who are interested in an older profession."

Yet, demand for nurses is so high that nursing supervisors can receive as much as $75,000 a year with only a nursing degree, Rosenfeld said. Health-care technicians in radiology, cardiovascular and ultrasound specialties earn annual salaries of between $38,000 and $50,000.

Students have historically been told that a bachelor's degree is their key to a decent-paying job, but industry representatives agree that these days they are often looking for experience, not just education.

For those in the entertainment and Internet industries the reason is simple--skills needed in these computer-driven businesses change rapidly. Today's hot animation software is next year's dinosaur technology, they said. That means a potential employee who knows current software applications and can adapt quickly is all but a sure hire.

Ronald Lawson, who works on multimedia computer projects as advertising production manager for Seminis Vegetable Seeds in Oxnard, figured the traditional college education has a half-life of about 18 months when it comes to high-tech jobs.

"You can't stay in this career unless you're constantly learning new things," said Lawson, who is consultant William Lawson's son.

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