This election year has brought us a paradox. Judging from the unemployment rate, we are almost at full employment in many parts of the nation, including the Santa Clarita Valley. However, American voters are showing clear signs of being anxious about their jobs.
This anxiety reflects a changing economy that is more technology driven and service oriented. As a result, people across the political spectrum are often finding themselves in agreement that in this new environment, a new type of workforce is required to stay competitive.
As a member of the Los Angeles County Workforce Development Board, I recently attended the 2016 Forum hosted by the National Association of Workforce Board. The three-day event was a great opportunity to get up to speed on the latest trends from subject experts, share best practices with other Workforce Development members and interact with legislators and agency officials on the Capital Hill.
The recent changes to the public workforce system were initiated by the almost unanimous passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act in 2014. By linking job training to actual needs of employers in in-demand industry sectors, the Act has also driven the inclusion within the local Workforce Development Boards of board members who have backgrounds in the private industry.
One key takeaway from attending the 2016 Forum on Workforce Board is that we should be proud of the model we are currently pursuing at the Santa Clarita Valley, namely, aligning workforce preparation and on-going job training with business needs in key industry clusters. By anchoring job placement, job training, small business development and economic development at the College of Canyons, we are already collaborating on all job-related issues that face small businesses or large companies alike. We should build on this effective model and make it more robust by designing career pathways for job seekers that meet the needs of growth industries.
This leads to my second takeaway, which is that local businesses have a big role to play in shaping the public workforce development program. For example, the LA County Workforce Board, of which I’m a member, serves a population of 4 million with an annual budget ranging from $33 to $66 million focusing on adult programs, dislocated worker programs, youth programs as well as rapid response/layout aversion programs. To develop effective programs that meet the changing needs of local businesses, we not only need to listen to the private sector, we also need to create opportunities where the voice of the businesses is directly heard by the Workforce board. To that end, I am proposing the creation of a forum where local companies can share their needs, requirements and suggestions directly with members of the County Workforce Development Board.
Finally, as we strengthen employer engagement to build on the great workforce training model we have here at the Santa Clarita Valley, we could also greatly benefit by continuing to innovate our approaches to workforce development. For example, can we consider inviting hiring companies to be part of the curriculum design to ensure seamless transition from classroom to shop floor? Also, for highly sophisticated manufacturing jobs such as CNC machinists, why can’t we bring area employers and training institutions together to design an apprentice program – a practice proven to be very successful in countries such as Germany and Switzerland – so that the trainees gain both knowledge and experience and can have a promising career after landing their first job?
Moving forward, I will be listening, engaging and collaborating with local companies, and share their suggestions with educational institutions such as the College of the Canyons and relevant agencies in job training and job placement. Whether you operate your own business or run a large company, I want to hear from you on how we can work together to achieve focus, alignment, efficiency and deliver results in the Workforce Development programs that result in successful careers for our job seekers.
This editorial written by Holly Schroeder, President and CEO of the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corporation, ran in the April 5 issue of the Santa Clarita Valley Signal newspaper.