San Luis Obispo apprenticeship program earns praise and a Summit workforce award

640 451 Ed Coghlan

( Photo Credit: SLO Partners)

San Luis Obispo had a challenge. Several years ago, this beautiful region of California had some challenges:

Employers were having a hard time finding qualified workers.

And people who wanted to live there struggled to find, “head of household jobs”, especially after the Diablo Canyon power plant began shedding hundreds of jobs, with a thousand more jobs to be eliminated during decommissioning in 2025.

In stepped SLO Partners, a modern apprenticeship initiative launched by the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education, with the goal of creating accelerated career-paths allowing residents to earn head-of-household incomes, while simultaneously solving a talent shortage for local, growing business. SLO Partners will be honored during the 2020 California Economic Summit on December 3-4 as a winner in the fourth annual Partnerships for Industry and Education (PIE) contest.

As Paula Mathias Fryer, program director for SLO Partners explained, addressing these challenges was a team effort. Local business, industry, education, and community leaders came together.

“We found out that there was a high need for technology and advanced manufacturing skills in our community,” she said. “We began carrying out our initiatives to develop talent pipelines.”

For Jim Buxton and his wife Marlena Lewis, these programs have helped them advance their careers and do something else very important: Stay in the community.

“The notion that I could get a job in San Luis Obispo that would actually pay enough money to live here was unique and appealing,” said Buxton, who enrolled in the Ticket into Tech program. “I’d developed an interest in writing code, so I entered the program.”

Jim’s now working at ES Chat as a software tester, a job he says he could not have ever landed without the program.

Jim’s wife Marlena Lewis, entered the Precision Manufacturing Boot Camp Program at her husband’s urging. After graduating, she received three job offers and is now a test technician and assembler at Trust Automation.

It is important to emphasize that SLO Partners is not doing this alone. Educational partners like Cuesta College and Cal Poly Extended Ed help students gain certification in their areas of specialty.

“One of the keys has been to continue to listen to employers and what skills they need their employees to have,” said SLO’s Mathias Fryer. “We’ve created boot camps in in advanced manufacturing, web development and IT Networking.”

In addition, they are piloting a new boot camp that concentrates on digital marketing. A training necessity that arose from the dire need for businesses to connect and engage with customers during COVID-19.

And what is true throughout California is the desire for more diversity in the workforce. So they concentrated on creating boot camps in technology, specifically for women who are dramatically under-represented in the technology industry.

It is a proven fact that modern apprenticeship programs create opportunity for the student, but perhaps less understood is the tremendous value provided to employers.

As Ty Safreno, CEO and CTO of Trust Automation, puts it, “Having a workforce that is ready to come in on day one and start working and doing things is beyond valuable.”

SLO Partners’ success in creating a talent pipeline that fills critical needs for employers is the reason judges for the PIE Contest named it a winning partnership.

But the real rewards may best be described by Marlena Lewis.

“Our quality of life has improved. We’re less stressed and we no longer worry about having to leave the area. I’m really thankful that SLO Partners exists.”

And she is not alone.


Ed Coghlan

All stories by: Ed Coghlan