California’s workforce for the 21st century key to its economic recovery

800 300 Ed Coghlan

“Employers have to have skin in the game if you want to succeed.”

Those words from San Luis Obispo employer Steve Burnside highlighted during a recent online conversation on how to Leverage Regional Workforce Programs for Economic Recovery sponsored by California Forward (CA Fwd) and the California Economic Summit.

Burnside runs an Information Technology service company called Clever Ducks and has worked closely with local business and civic leaders in a project called SLO Partners which identifies employer needs and then models work-based learning programs like apprenticeships.

The result is an employee ready to do a job.

As Loreli Cappel of the Economic Vitality Corporation said it answers the two questions central coast  employers most frequently have.

How can I find qualified employees—and when I do—how can I keep training them?

The workforce discussion was part of CA Fwd’s Regions Recover Together event which attracted more than 500 Californians to a virtual meeting to share best practices of how regions are responding, recovering, and rebuilding in inclusive, equitable ways.

“We held the event to learn about regional strategies for sustainable and inclusive economic planning aimed at redressing inequalities to build a stronger, more equitable California together,” said Micah Weinberg, CEO of CA Fwd. “In these challenging times, we felt strongly that keeping momentum toward addressing the deep inequities and injustices in our communities was critically important.”

For Jessica Ku Kim, the senior director of workforce development for the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC) the emphasis on identifying and solving regional challenges is a top priority.

The LAEDC Center for a Competitive Workforce has a “regionally centric” approach. One area they are looking at is what they called well defined occupational crosswalks – how to identify skills that might help an employee working in an at-risk sector gain a more secure job.

“The pandemic showed a downturn in retail,” she explained. “So, we ask what skills might that employee have that could apply to another area of the economy.”

Tim Rainey, executive director of the California Workforce Development Board, agrees that employers need to be committed to workforce training. He also thinks the type of job that people are being trained for needs to be worthwhile.

“The system shouldn’t be designed to connect low-income people to dead end jobs,” he said. “You can’t have equity if you don’t have enough high-quality jobs.”

Rainey warned that the COVID-19 caused recession in California will prevent the state from funding many programs in the near future.

“The state budget is in dire straits,” he said. “We need federal stimulus programs to be passed.”

Like many, Kate Gallagher of the San Diego Regional EDC believes that aligning educational programs with the needs of employers is critical and she touted a three-year project underway in her region to address those issues.

Lisa McGuire of Northrop Grumman in San Diego reviewed a program that is underway to identify and includes students who may be interested in a manufacturing career. Northrop Grumman has long worked with community colleges and other higher learning sites to prepare more people for the 21st Century jobs that are such a major part of the California economy.

Creating a workforce for the 21st Century has been a priority for the California Economic Summit—which attracts local, regional and state civic and elected officials—since the first Summit eight years ago. The 2020 Summit is scheduled for December 3-4.

Regions Recover Together was a project of CA Fwd, our California Stewardship Network, and the California Economic Summit network.

To find more of our stories on the Regions Recover Together virtual event, click here.


Ed Coghlan

All stories by: Ed Coghlan