Local Government
Commentary: How a Strong Workforce Benefits Everyone, Fuels Local Economies

Commentary: How a Strong Workforce Benefits Everyone, Fuels Local Economies

By Deborah Nankivell and Van Ton-Quinlivan.

A strong workforce is an issue that pulls together the right, left and everyone in between. It is both a moral and economic imperative. While students, employers and educators may have different perspectives, there is growing unity about what needs to be done to lift Californians into higher-wage jobs and, by doing so, enable economic prosperity for citizens. Success requires changes in beliefs and practices, systems and policies, including action to level the playing field so that many more citizens have access to game-changing higher education and training.

We are faced with an ill-equipped workforce today for a number of reasons, among them a narrowing of the K-12 focus to emphasize the traditional college path, to the detriment of technical education. Due to curriculum changes and failure to align instruction to employer needs, we lost our capacity to prepare a skilled workforce and adapt to the rapidly changing workplace. This leaves our employers without an essential element for growing their companies and, in turn, fueling local economies.

Fortunately, leaders at the California Community Colleges recognize the unique leadership role the 114-college system plays. Community centric, these colleges were created to work with local employers to prepare students for jobs in the community. In response to critical workforce shortages, the system in 2016 launched the Strong Workforce initiative, the state’s recurring investment of $200 million to develop more and better career education. This effort is a case study in public-private partnership with civic leaders including, among dozens of others, California Forward, the California Stewardship Network, workforce boards, industry leaders, adult schools, K-12 education and numerous nonprofits. The rallying cry is to build more pathways to more middle-class jobs. The effort seeks to ensure upward mobility is more than a dream, and the stabilizing influence of the middle class calms the ideological splits that prevent solutions to critical issues.

The guiding principle of the Strong Workforce initiative – education as a path to social mobility — is universal in the core principles of our country, making it common ground. Intrinsic value of individuals, inalienable rights, liberty, the responsibilities of citizenship – these concepts are embodied in the strategies and daily actions of those committed to developing prosperous regions in a thriving state.

The California Community Colleges also is engaging in an $8 million project to help Californians in economically distressed regions. This innovative project, under the leadership of Assembly Member Phil Ting, is scaling proven programs, trainings and projects to guide students and incumbent workers to living-wage careers. For example, one project trains entry-level airframe mechanics in eight weeks, with more than 95 percent gaining employment after program completion.

In its latest effort to ensure greater access to higher education, the system is seeking to launch an online community college to reach adults who need additional skills to succeed in the economy but whose personal or work circumstances prevent them from attending brick-and-mortar colleges. Plans for the college were developed at the request of Governor Brown. To learn more about the online community college visit ccconlinecollege.com, and we encourage you to reach out to your local legislator to express support for this project.

Intractable issues, such as economic development, cannot be resolved from a stakeholder or single-sector approach. Interdependence and rapid change require us to stand back and think long-term and systemically. Only impartial civic stewards in all aspects of society can effectively partner to align policies and funding to meet the challenges we face today for citizens and their employers. This formula can create a California with inclusive prosperity and well-being.

Authors Deborah Nankivell, Fresno Business Council CEO, and Van Ton-Quinlivan, California Community Colleges Vice President of Workforce & Digital Futures, were recently awarded the 2017 California Steward Leader Award by the California Economic Summit.

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