What the future of work means for San Diego’s defense industry

PropeleventIn 2016, the City of San Diego was awarded a grant from the Department of Defense (DoD) to develop a more robust and resilient defense ecosystem. Leveraging the collaborative efforts of six key partner organizations, Propel San Diego was formed to oversee and facilitate grant funding 

Propel designs creative solutions to assist businesses who sell products and services to the DoD, bolstering the supply chain. In short, the ultimate goal of Propel is to stabilize this sector regardless of changing budgets, regional economic changes and DoD readiness priorities.  

The San Diego Workforce Partnership is a proud partner of Propel San Diego. Our work on this grant has focused on the professional, scientific and technical service sector. This sector is diversecovering a large range of servicesincluding geophysical surveying and mapping, consulting, research and development, computer systems design, and engineering.  

The research

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The Workforce Partnership conducted a survey of firms within the professional, scientific and technical service sector to assess current and future workforce needs. This survey aimed to identify the challenges encountered by our region in developing a workforce able to meet the needs of professional, scientific and technical service sector businesses involved in defense.  

A result of this eye-opening research was a realization surrounding certifications. More specifically, there is an extensive and varied collection of certifications for workers to obtain that can help improve their qualifications and skills. Unfortunately, identifying those that are most important, sought after, or useful is hard for both employers and applicants.

After concluding the professional, scientific and technical service sector sector and defense industry could directly benefit from a centralized tool that helps employers identify important certifications and locate training programs, the Workforce Partnership set out to create a solution to achieve just that.   

The tool

On September 24, 2019, in front of more than 30 community leaders, nonprofits and private companies, the Workforce Partnership demoed its IT & Cybersecurity Workforce Insights Tool. In its current form, it provides users the chance to explore regional labor market trends, identify cyber security certifications that are most relevant to their needs and view information on both training providers and locations. 

Generally, those at the conference saw value in the tool. Most comments related to possible areas of improvement touched on the expansion of the tool to cover more occupations. For example, civil, aeronautic and electrical engineers as well as health and safety workers are vital to the defense sector. Including these and related occupations in future iterations will help expand the usefulness of the tool. Other suggestions involved the inclusion of historical data as well as job posting data.  

The conversation

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Attendees talking at table

In addition to the sneak peek of the Workforce Partnership’s new tool, an open dialogue was held with conference participants. During the conversation, topics related to San Diego’s current and future workforce were explored. From these conversations, concerns related to the cost of living in the region were raised. 

It was suggested, for example, that cost of living is one of the reasons for our region’s “brain drain” (individuals educated at one of San Diego’s educational institutions then leaving the area). Many participants were very concerned about this trend, suspecting that over the coming years more cities will continue their attempts to attract talent away from region.  

Should employer’s reexamine degree requirements?

Another common theme was a need to move away from the stigmatization of those lacking advanced degrees. Many in the room supported the move toward on-the-job training in lieu of higher education requirements. The hope is initiatives like this will extend desired job opportunities to applicants from diverse backgrounds, helping spread wealth throughout the region and further reinforce the workforce. 

The work

Though concrete policies and solutions are some ways away, local government, workforce development agencies, nonprofits and private entities are expending great efforts to building resilience in the San Diego workforce. Propel San Diego is just one of several programs that are contributing to this goal, with the IT & Cybersecurity Workforce Insights Tool being an example of what is possible when the community and industry come together.  

Read the full Workforce Needs in Defense report here.