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Programs Obama Favors To Train High-Tech Workers Severely Cut In Calif.

Aired 1/25/12 on KPBS News.

California Community Colleges' apprenticeship programs strapped for cash as President calls for more support.

— In his State of the Union Address on Tuesday, President Barack Obama singled out building industry partnerships with community colleges as the way to train American workers for available high-tech jobs. He was referring to an initiative the White House launched last summer called Skills for America's Future.

Partnerships like these already exist in San Diego. In fact, for about 30 years Solar Turbines has accepted apprentices who work for the company full-time while completing certification classes at San Diego City College. A representative of the program said about 50 of their current employees started as apprentices.

San Diego City College enrolls about 1,200 students a year in their various apprenticeship programs, according to Randy Barnes, dean of the School of Business, Information Technology and Cosmetology.

“Students are getting jobs by being apprentices," he said. "They’re employed while they’re in school and it’s very applied training. What they’re learning in the classroom they’re going to using the next day on the job.”

Students work for companies like Solar Turbines and San Diego Trolley, the City of San Diego or on construction sites while taking classes through San Diego Community College apprenticeship programs.

Barnes said the programs' retention rates are high since students have to complete them to keep their jobs. However, he added that California cut funding for apprenticeship programs at community colleges two years ago by 51 percent.

“The state has basically frozen the budget until 2015 and has told us that they are not going to authorize any new programs to be created in apprenticeship," Barnes said. "So as much as we would love to expand it and there’s a need for it, there’s not the budget for it at this time.”

Palomar Community College runs several apprenticeship programs in partnership with trade unions and Southwestern Community College partners with Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility to train shipyard workers.

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