In the modern economy, workforce capabilities are more important than any other single input to regional economic development. Regions grow when they develop their residents’ talent and then put them to work in jobs that maximize their productivity.
To put it simply, talent drives regional economic competitiveness and performance.
There’s a close correlation between the educational attainment of local workers and the likelihood they have a Quality Job; higher-skilled workers are much more likely to hold a Good or Promising Job. And, according to research by the City Observatory, educational attainment explains about two-thirds of the variation in per capita incomes across large US city-regions, like the Bakersfield-Kern region.
Our historic jobs mix used to mask education deficits
The Bakersfield-Kern region has been a dramatic outlier when it comes to the correlation between a region’s educational attainment and per capita earnings.
Our educational attainment levels consistently lag far behind both California and national averages. Against our economic peer regions, we have both one of the largest shares of residents lacking a high school degree or equivalent and the smallest with a Bachelor’s degree or above.
However, the Bakersfield-Kern region has historically benefitted from a dense concentration of high-wage jobs in the oil and gas industry that are accessible to workers holding a high school degree or less. As a result, our regional per capita earnings fall far outside the trend line comparing earnings with educational attainment across the US.
In the past, this has offered upward economic mobility for local residents despite our region’s modest educational attainment.
In 2010 per capita earnings in the Bakersfield-Kern region were about $31,000, despite just 15 percent of residents holding at least a Bachelor’s degree. For comparison, that put us ahead of the Inland Empire and Las Vegas regions, and on par with other regions with twice as many college graduates.
However, by 2018, declines in the number of high-wage, low-skill jobs in the oil and gas industry caught up with us. While per capita earnings grew to $39,700, educational attainment only rose to 16 percent. More educated regions across the nation saw much greater improvements, surpassing the Bakersfield-Kern region in economic opportunity.
Today, our per capita earnings are much more in line with national trends, based on our region’s educational attainment. Without a plan to drastically improve educational attainment at all levels of our population, this downward trend will continue.
Density of talent: key to growth of Opportunity Industries
But, it will take more than increasing the number of college graduates to help improve our region’s economic competitiveness. We also have to pay attention to the density of talent, or how local workers’ training, skills and education concentrate in specific industries.
The pool of available knowledge, skills and expertise – and the ability to cultivate more – is the top factor in cluster formation and business location services. Our ability to increase the number of Quality Jobs in local Opportunity Industries depends on our ability to develop workers who can fill jobs and support the industry’s growth.
Long-term initiatives like the Kern Education Pledge, Kern Regional K-16 Education Collaborative and others are already underway. These initiatives’ goal is to improve our region’s educational attainment so that today’s students have more opportunity for economic mobility when they become workers.
In the near term, B3K is focused on helping launch efforts that target and scale workforce training programs based on economic development opportunities for specific industry sectors. It’s our way of simultaneously working on overall educational attainment and density of talent.
One example is the collaboration we’ve helped facilitate between local K-16 education institutions and the Aerospace industry for the Aerospace Talent to Industry Exchange (TIE).
The collaboration between education and industry is vital to increasing opportunities for area residents to benefit from Quality Jobs. The Opportunity Industries identified in the B3K Market Assessment are not new sectors for the Bakersfield-Kern industry. Instead, we looked at Traded Sectors already in the region to identify those with the highest concentrations of Good and Promising Jobs and for which we are most likely to compete for investment and growth.
By connecting job creators in Opportunity Industries with educational leaders, we can create training and skills-development pathways that put students on a pathway toward earning a Quality Job. When industry leaders see a pipeline of talent, they have the confidence to invest and grow their businesses in our region.
And when businesses in our Opportunity Industries grow, they create more Quality Jobs, which provide more workers access to achieve upward economic mobility.
B3K Prosperity’s goal is to see 100,000 more quality jobs in our region by 2031, so we can cut in half the number of children in struggling families. With the collaboration of stakeholders from business, education, government and civic organizations, we can not only reach this goal, but we can also achieve our vision to be the best place in California for everyone to achieve the American dream.
For more information on Why Talent Matters, download the full Market Assessment.