(Photo Credit: US Navy/Tim Godbee)
New investments in workforce development programs continue to receive strong bipartisan support in California, offering a unifying strategy for reducing poverty and restoring upward mobility. But even with an additional $200-million infusion for career technical education in this year’s budget, California’s economic regions, industry clusters, and educational and training institutions have a long way to go to achieve an integrated system that serves students, recalibrates workers, and meets employer needs.
Millions of Californians are still struggling to make ends meet in low-wage jobs—while industries from health care to manufacturing can’t find enough skilled workers. Closing this “skills gap” will require a substantial retooling of the state’s vast network of workforce and professional development programs, improving connections between institutions—and between public programs and regional labor markets.
For the last year, this has been the focus of the California Economic Summit’s One Million Workers Challenge, which seeks to produce one million more graduates with bachelor’s degrees and one million more workers with middle-skilled credentials over the next 10 years.
In the newly-released 2016 Summit Playbook, the Summit offers an updated action plan for getting this done—highlighting the next steps public institutions, civic leaders, and businesses can take toward aligning workforce and professional development programs in every region. The Playbook will be reviewed by participants at the California Economic Summit on December 13-14 in Sacramento. Leaders from all three of California’s higher education institutions will also share their views on the Workers Challenge, including Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California, Timothy White, chancellor of the California State University system, and Eloy Oakley, incoming chancellor of the California Community Colleges. Michael Kirst, president of the State Board of Education, brings the K-12 perspective.
Expectations for what this effort can accomplish have been raised by what has been accomplished. In the last year, a new Strong Workforce Program approved by the Governor and Legislature (with the Summit’s support) now requires community colleges to rely on labor market data, plan regionally, and consult with employers and civic leaders to support new career technical education programs. The state and local workforce investment boards are now aligned with community colleges on metrics—as are the state’s adult education block grants—and these programs are promoting new partnerships with employers. Pipelines are also expanding from the K-12 system through CTE incentive grants and career pathways trust funds. Meanwhile, the Awards for Innovation in Higher Education continue to spotlight how collaboration among institutions can reduce students’ time to completion.
For the Summit, the next step is working in individual regions to forge these programs into coherent systems—informed by data, strengthened by efficient relationships with employers, and held accountable for performance by government, business, and civic stewards. In 2017, the Summit will focus on maturing these new collaborative efforts to ensure all Californians have a chance to succeed in today’s dynamic workplaces.