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By NORA HESTON TARTE
Business Journal Writer
San Joaquin County WorkNet is in the business of helping people.
The San Joaquin County Employment and Economic Development Department-run agency creates pathways between community members looking for employment and businesses looking for qualified candidates using educational institutions and other available training to connect the two.
“It’s all of us working together to figure out what is needed,” John Solis, executive director of WorkNet, said. “It’s a partnership.”
Within WorkNet, several state and county agencies work together to combine services that help individuals looking for work and businesses looking for employees.
There are two sides to the business.
The first side is for the worker. Those who qualify for employment assistance can visit any WorkNet Center in the county. There are locations in Lodi, Manteca, Stockton and Tracy. Within one building, several agencies are housed to offer comprehensive services to those who need help finding employment and other services such as housing assistance.
Workers going through WorkNet usually fall into one of two categories — they are displaced or economically disadvantaged. The latter includes those coming out of incarceration as well as veterans.
“When it comes to our workforce efforts, every San Joaquin County resident is a potential client whether they desire employment opportunities or career advancement options,” explained Steven J. Lantsberger, economic development director for the Economic Development Association of San Joaquin County. “Our services are free and we encourage all to take advantages of the many programs we offer.”
“When a person comes in, we do a preliminary assessment to see where they would fit,” Solis said. A comprehensive assessment follows to establish what skills a worker has, what they need to secure a job and where their aptitudes are. This information is used to develop a training plan to help them qualify for an in-demand job.
On the other side, WorkNet connects the dots between training and workforce placement. Staff members have open conversations with businesses in the area about their employment needs. Often businesses will notice a gap between needs and the available workforce.
WorkNet takes what they learn from those conversations to local educational institutions to identify and develop training programs that will prepare workers for those careers. WorkNet uses part of its operating budget to subsidize education when necessary.
“The success of any and all workforce programs is the participation of the private sector, specifically the business community,” Lantsberger said.
“The economy is beginning to pick up and there’s a lot of infrastructure projects coming up,” Solis said. “The objective will be to try to prepare individuals to meet the needs of those [businesses] who will be hiring for those projects.”
In order to prepare workers for in-demand positions, WorkNet staff assesses skills and removes barriers to employment. These barriers include basic skill deficits as well as training deficits. If they do not have the skills necessary to perform a job but show aptitude for it or an interest in it, WorkNet helps connect the potential worker with training to make them a qualified candidate. If they struggle with English, that barrier is addressed.
A community functions better when individuals are independent. Those who are dependent on the social system can stop receiving assistance if they have a good job. Those who were incarcerated have better success rehabilitating if they have a job within 90 days.
“An employed person is a productive person,” Solis said.
In many cases, training is available through a local educational institution where financial aid is offered and WorkNet can subsidize if necessary. For other positions, on-the-job training is required. If a company is unable to afford to pay a worker for training time, WorkNet can subsidize wages to make the connection work for both parties.
Helping existing businesses grow, expand and invest in San Joaquin County is one of the main goals of WorkNet and the EDA.
“The importance of a fully-integrated and comprehensive business retention and expansion program cannot be overstated since 75-80 percent of all new jobs in a community originate in existing business and industry,” Lantsberger said.
For targeted industries, or industries showing future needs, WorkNet assesses available training. If training can be enhanced or new training can be created, WorkNet partners with educational institutions to create those programs.
WorkNet worked with Delta College to create small, stackable credentials in manufacturing. The school previously offered only a two-year manufacturing program.
Noticing that many local companies had a need for one specialty in manufacturing, WorkNet suggested a change. Instead of one program encompassing all of the specialties, Delta offered several credentials in manufacturing specialties.
“Education is a critical partner,” Solis said.
WorkNet is funded through the U.S. Department of Labor. The Employment and Economic Development Department assigns staff to support the Workforce Development Board, oversees operations and long-term planning, and creates and monitors all budgeting activity as directed and approved by the Board.
The Workforce Development Board helps run the agency and allocates funds.