Connecting the dots: Organizations building bridge between students, jobs

Places like WorkNet in the Central Valley are helping to connect students and workers with jobs in various fields.

Employment is a problem in the Central Valley—but not how you’d think.

Unemployment is down, hitting 6.2 percent in November 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics annual review.

While the number is higher than California’s 4 percent, it’s a positive trend for the region. Just one year prior, San Joaquin County unemployment was at 7.6 percent, Merced at 7.8 percent and Stanislaus at 8.2 percent.

Employers, however, cannot find qualified workers to fill open positions.

The answer is community collaboration, and the Central Valley has taken on the task.

Through research, Central Valley institutions have identified the Valley’s most in-need professions and educators, administrators and businesses have banded together to fill the gaps in the local job market by creating pathways to train high school students and adult learners to fill the needs.

The result, at least in theory, is a well-oiled machine.

The Central Valley will become a region where workers stay close to home, build solid careers, earn a living wage and reinvest their dollars into the community

“It’s all of us working together to figure out what is needed,” said John Solis, executive director of WorkNet, a San Joaquin County Employment & Economic Development Department-run entity that creates pathways between community members looking for employment and businesses looking for qualified candidates. “It’s a partnership.”

The region’s best opportunities exist in three sectors: logistics, including truck driving and warehouse operations from entry-level to management; healthcare, including nursing; and building trades and construction, including both commercial and residential projects.

At the kindergarten through twelfth-grade level, educators introduce students to these careers, while county agencies and colleges create pathways with training and post-secondary education opportunities available to adult learners.

Many students start in high school and seamlessly follow their pathway through post-secondary programs made possible by the partnerships created between Central Valley school districts, colleges and local businesses.

Those who choose not to pursue post-secondary education can enter entry-level jobs with the certifications acquired in high school.

Lodi Unified School District students who take hospitality and recreation courses, for example, are eligible for entry level employment in Lodi’s wine and hospitality department.

“Our goal here is to provide a marketable skill at the end of each year … to set [students] up to get employment after the twelfth grade if they decide not to go to college,” said Richard Migliori, a career technical education instructor at Venture Academy in Stockton.     

E&J Gallo
Executives at E&J Gallo Winery, the largest winery in the world and one of the Central Valley’s leading employers, noticed a gap in the eligible workforce in 2015. There weren’t enough technical employees to meet the company’s needs.

Instead of hiring outside the region, the company turned to local schools and created a job-ready program to train high school students in the skills the company needed.

“The program provides all students with the opportunity to learn lifelong skills that are needed to be successful in the workforce and, if selected for a paid internship, students are able to gain work experience, further develop their skills and ultimately apply for a position within the winery organization,” said Natalie Henderson, spokesperson for Gallo.

After Gallo’s success with Ceres High School Manufacturing Academy, the winery expanded its offering to Modesto City Schools, Ceres Unified, Hughson Unified, Turlock Unified, Patterson Unified, Madera Unified and Merced Unified.

Students who complete the program learn interview skills, resume writing, communication skills, conflict resolution, change management and lean principles.

Gallo hired 17 program participants to work at the winery in operations and winegrowing in the program’s first two years.

“I learned that if you want a good paying career you don’t need to leave [the area],” said Edwin Valdivia Jacobo, a general winery worker who graduated Ceres High School Manufacturing and Green Technology Academy in 2015. “I have one here in my own backyard, and I didn’t even know it.”

Opportunity Stanislaus, a local organization dedicated to supporting economic growth and vitality in the community, is helping, too.

In addition to paying for students’ WorkKeys tests, a necessary component of joining the workforce program, Opportunity Stanislaus is helping expand the program’s reach by working alongside Gallo employees to determine future needs and train area students to fill future roles.

The goal is for Opportunity Stanislaus to be a dot connecter, connecting local job seekers with employers and education through partnerships in the community.

WorkNet is connecting dots, too.

Within one building, several state and county agencies combine services that help individuals looking for work and businesses looking for employees.

On one side, WorkNet is helping the worker by opening its doors to those who qualify for employment 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.

Services are free and WorkNet encourages residents to take advantage.

“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.

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.

In order to prepare workers for in-demand positions, WorkNet staff assesses skills and removes barriers to employment, such as a lack of pertinent skills or training needed to fill an open role.

If they struggle with English, that barrier is also addressed.

To identify potential opportunities, WorkNet staff has open conversations with area businesses about employment needs.

More than just training workers to fill those needs, WorkNet initiates the creation of new and better pathways, taking what they learn from those conversations to local educational institutions to identify and develop training programs that will prepare workers for those careers.

“Education is a critical partner,” Solis said.

Participation of the private sector, specifically the business community, drives the success of workforce programs because 75-80 percent of all new jobs in a community originate in existing business and industry.

“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.”

That growth spurt makes the need for more qualified candidates in existing industries evident, but hiring trends in the region show many out-of-state workers taking up high-paying positions in the Valley.

The healthcare industry is one example.        

“We don’t have enough trained healthcare workers in the Central Valley,” said Daniel Wolcott, president and CEO of Adventist Health Lodi Memorial. “There are certainly not enough physicians … to fill the need.”

Wolcott works with the San Joaquin Valley Health Sector Partnership in hopes of changing that trend.

“The goal of that is to enhance our training for healthcare sector workers,” he said. “Our education pipeline isn’t broad enough to fill all of those needs.”

Wolcott said the hospital only looks to non-local workers when they must, because the local talent pool for healthcare is too slim.

“It’s really a supply and demand issue,” he said. “We need to continue to work together to train more of our own people.”

Partnership with colleges
One partnership between WorkNet and San Joaquin Delta College resulted in a new approach to manufacturing training—another understaffed industry in the Valley—that includes small, stackable credentials.

The school previously offered only a two-year manufacturing program and the change grew out of a need local companies expressed for individual certifications in manufacturing, as opposed to one degree that encompassed them all.

Modesto Technical College is a trade/technical school focused on in-demand careers.

Students at MTC receive technical training that meets the needs of local employers, including courses in automotive trades, HVAC, industrial refrigeration, maintenance and welding.

All training programs in all subject areas are developed with direct input from major employers in the Central Valley and training program enrollment is not based on how many students can be enrolled but on the actual jobs available.

Career Technical Education

At the high school level, career technical education, or CTE, is the centerpiece.

“We are investing in CTE and supporting CTE because we know how important it is for our students to be prepared for the workforce,” said James Mousalimas, San Joaquin County superintendent of schools.

CTE is offered at almost every school in San Joaquin County and all 14 school districts have some sort of CTE program.

If students attend San Joaquin Delta college or schools in the Los Rios Community College District, which includes Modesto Junior College, they may receive college credit for CTE coursework taken in high school.

“We work with our school districts and our own internal programs to develop CTE pathways that align to local labor market information in SJC,” said Chris Kleinert, director of CTE at the San Joaquin County Office of Education. “We’re not going to develop a pathway if there is no job at the end of it.”

As early as freshman year, students can enroll in CTE with an introduction course in a field of interest. The following year, a concentrated course is offered. Students who take a third year enroll in an advanced CAPSTONE course.

For freshmen that want to enroll in CTE but do not yet know what type of pathway they’d like to explore, a rotation is offered. Over the course of one year, students will study four subjects.

“I believe in CTE for two reasons,” Kleinert said. “For many students, our CTE courses are the reason the come to school every day … [Secondly], we do a great job of preparing students for the work environment in the 21st century.”

The difference between entering the workforce immediately and continuing to a post-secondary program, Kleinert said, is the difference between a job and a career.

“High school students are not ready for some of these positions upon completion of high school because some of the requirements are really stringent,” he explained. “What we do in high school is we expose them to the basics of each industry.”

Some students will continue their career path in college.

Jordan Treydte, 17, a senior at Venture Academy, started CTE courses as a sophomore.

He enrolled in welding because it sparked his interest.

By his senior year, Treydte was taking residential/commercial construction, a pathway akin to woodshop on steroids.

In class, students aren’t building dollhouses and napkin holders, they are learning about insulation, roofing, slope, stucco and framing houses.

Treydte plans to attend CSU Fresno in 2018-2019 as an electrical engineering major, a path he learned he was interested in through CTE.

So why is the Central Valley so focused on this project?

The benefits to the community reach beyond staffing needs and higher wages.

Solis said a community functions better when individuals are independent.

“An employed person is a productive person,” Solis said.


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