A skilled workforce is seen as key to turning the California economy around. (Photo Credit: Speshul Ted)
“If you build it, they will come.”
Do you remember that line from the movie, “Field of Dreams?” That was about building a baseball field in an Iowa corn field, but the saying can also be true for creating workers for today’s California economy.
“It’s about time we start building career pathways with academic rigor and career relevance for every young person in California so that they can have an educational experience,” said State Senator president pro Tem Darrell Steinberg. “We want their education to be meaningful and relevant in whatever they may choose to do after school.”
Steinberg recently introduced a bill that he believes is one piece of the puzzle. SB 594, The Dropout Reduction and Workforce Development Bond Act, aims to provide more career-oriented curriculum and training for California students by creating and strengthening partnerships between school and industry.
The goal is to give students more opportunities for career training that will lead to high-wage jobs. In turn, businesses and industries will benefit from the larger skilled workforce.
“If we are serious about building a high wage economy, if we are serious about fixing the unacceptable high school drop-out rate of California, we must do a better job convincing California’s leading job agencies to invest directly in California’s high schools,” said Steinberg.
Steinberg is suggesting several financial methods: Workforce Development Bonds, Career Pathways Investment Tax Credits, and Linked Learning Trust Funds. Those new funds will be used to build curriculums, internships, summer jobs and scholarships.
“The fact the Senator is pointing out the importance of career-oriented education and how it’s linked to workforce development, economic development, is really critical because it’s been a missing piece in the conversation,” said Lou Anne Bynum, Executive Vice President of College Advancement and Economic Development at Long Beach City College.
Long Beach City College has been working with regional industry partners the past two years to better align their programs.
“Our commitment to career technical programs is unwavering. Our whole intent is to be able to look at revitalizing and re-engineering the CTE programs that are really critical to the industry sectors in our regions and being able to retool them in a way that they have much more viability for the kinds of workforce needs that our employers and industry sectors need,” said Bynum.
“Any additional investment that we make to help strengthen our relationships will be a good think and anything we can do to incentivize other employers is good as well,” said Eloy Oakley, Superintendent-President of Long Beach City College. “But the question I have is, what is the community college role? I think what the K-12 role is clear but I want to ensure there is a strong community college role in this linkage as well.”
Many industry leaders applaud and support this bill.
“We’re hopeful this bill will set up a structure where there’s permanent funding for career technical pathways so that California students have opportunities to grow in the jobs that are going to be here and be the future of California,” said Jack Stewart, president of the California Manufacturers & Technology Association.
Twenty-five years ago, seven out of 10 high school students took a Career Technical Education (CTE) course. Today, it is a mere three out of ten.
“Manufacturers need workers at all levels. Some with high school degrees and certifications and some with community college associate’s degrees and some with high-level engineering degrees,” said Stewart.
The bill arrived two weeks after 30 state senators took a “field trip” to the Long Beach area schools and learned about their linked learning efforts.
“This is a step in the right direction. I think in the end, as with any bill, the devil is in the details and what kind of linkages are ultimately incentivized and I think we are happy to help the Senator in any way that we can as this bill works its way down the line so that we are targeting areas that will produce the greatest results for the state’s workforce,” said Oakley.
“This is central. This is central to the future of California. If we don’t bring public education and economic development together, we will be the worse for it,” said Steinberg.