Kern County continued to see strong demand for workers in all health care-related fields during 2017. And this demand is expected to continue through 2024.
Citing state Employment Development Department data, Kern County Assistant County Administrator Teresa Hitchcock noted Kern’s “extremely strong growth” in jobs for personal care aides, home health aides, and other personal care and service workers.
“This is due to both the growth in overall population and also the aging of the boomer population,” said Hitchcock, who oversees Kern County’s economic development and jobs programs.
Eric Geiger, Kern Medical Center’s staff recruiter, agreed. The county hospital held a job fair in August at the America’s Jobs Center in Bakersfield. The one-day event attracted 294 applicants, with job offers made to 25 people for positions including food and building services, trauma registration and patient care technicians. An additional 27 applicants were considered for other positions.
Geiger said county jobs officials reported the event “was one of the largest they have had at their center.”
Looking to 2018 and beyond, Hitchcock predicted job growth will be strong in other fields, as well.
“We are expecting tremendous demand for construction workers in all fields over the next 10 years,” she said, crediting numerous public infrastructure projects that are scheduled to take place in Kern County for the demand. “Many of these are mega projects, including the Lake Isabella dam project, the high-speed rail project and the Centennial Corridor project.
“In addition, the newly enacted gas tax will add transportation projects through 2027. In talking with the local unions, many of their members are older and will be aging out of the system, requiring replacement workers,” she said. “Other growth areas include food preparation and serving, law enforcement and corrections, and warehouse workers (material moving workers, assemblers, fabricators, packing and filling machine workers.”
At Kern County’s two major ecommerce distribution centers — the Tejon Ranch Commerce Center at the foot of the Grapevine and the Wonderful Industrial Park in Shafter — developers credit a good, quality local labor supply for their centers’ success.
“The distribution managers at the Tejon Ranch Commerce Center are united in their praise of their employees,” said Tejon’s Barry Zoeler. “They have a strong work ethic, which translates into greater productivity, and they’re extraordinarily stable, which has resulted in a very low turnover rate.”
“Right now, we still have higher unemployment and therefore, a larger labor pool than many other markets,” said Hitchcock, adding that as the state’s and Kern’s unemployment rate continues to decline, the skilled labor pool is likely to tighten.
“We are already seeing some of this in the medical industry, but it will more than likely increase in other areas as more employers compete for a smaller pool of workers,” she said, noting county jobs officials are addressing a looming shortage in a number of ways:
• Creating retention and recruitment strategies for existing workers.
• Enticing workers, who may have left the workforce, to return.
• Supporting on-the-job training and apprenticeship programs for workers who lack industrial or construction skills.
• Supporting specialized training that leads to industry-recognized certificates.
“The top nine occupations projected to have the most openings between now and 2024 require a high school diploma/GED or less,” said Hitchcock. “However, for some of these positions you won’t be able to compete without some type of vocational training.
“There is a trend toward vocational training as an opportunity to land a better-paying job without necessarily completing a two- or four-year degree,” she said, noting a goal will be to identify career paths to help job seekers pursue careers, which require some vocational training and a certificate. “With additional training and education, workers can progress to higher paying jobs.”
Balancing the needs of workers to find jobs with the needs of employers to find skilled workers is a focus of the county’s myriad federal- and state-funded jobs programs and the national network of America’s Jobs Centers — a collaborative effort between agencies that provide “one-stop” services for job seekers.
“Our local system partnership is with 21 different agencies that provide a range of services for various targeted populations, including dislocated workers, folks with disabilities, veterans, ex-offenders, farmworkers, youth ages 16 to 24, seniors and more,” said Hitchcock. “The concept behind a one-stop center is to provide all of the services at one site so that job seekers aren’t shuffled around and forced to visit multiple places to get the help they need to find employment.”
The primary local partners include Employers’ Training Resource, the Employment Development Department, the Department of Rehabilitation, Adult Education, and the Department of Human Services. Most of the funding comes from the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). Employers’ Training Resource is wholly grant funded and receives no county general fund money.