The future of the region's economic growth and vitality is directly linked to increasing the workforce through training and education. One key to achieving that growth is making use of a Federal program called the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).
Under the provisions of WIOA, which went into effect in 2015, each state submitted a four year plan in early 2016 that outlines the framework it will use to create their own programs to help job seekers access education, training, support services, and employment.
WIOA is a national network of Federal, State, regional, and local agencies that provide a range of services to help job seekers secure good jobs while providing businesses the opportunity to match up with the skilled workers they need to compete in the global economy.
The Alameda County Workforce Development Board (ACWDB) is the local agency tasked with administering the Federal and state programs. The programs they create assist adults who need skills to compete for jobs and advance their careers.
A key contributor to the success of the ACWDB program is the cooperation of local businesses. According to Patti Castro, Director Alameda County Workforce Development Board, success is achieved when businesses get engaged with ACWDB to create educational programs that offer relevant training that can lead directly to hiring.
"We need businesses to be full participates in workforce development. We need people to be trained, and we need businesses to be fully engaged in vetting the curriculum with local community colleges and with the local educational system," states Castro.
"ACWDB meets with the employer, we talk about what their training needs are to upskill incumbent workers, and we agree on a local educational provider that is vetted by the employer and then the employer matches the funding investment. The outcome is employees get more training which allows them to get promoted into next level jobs, which in turn opens up the entry level job for someone who will also get training," says Castro.
The result is more people have a positive economic impact on the community. One Hacienda business utilizing workforce training is Kaiser Permanente. They have an Upskill initiative that helps employees take the steps they need to be successful in the future of health care. Kaiser Permanente's program is called National Workforce Planning and Development (NWPD), and it supports their strategic plan of offering continuous learning, streamlining tuition reimbursement, and partnering with "best in class" education providers in the community.
"National Workforce Planning and Development is mission critical for our organization. We want to ensure today's Kaiser Permanente workforce is ready for the challenges of tomorrow," notes Dennis Dabney, Senior Vice President, Kaiser Permanente.
WIOA is designed to strengthen and improve the nation's public workforce system and help get people, including young adults and those with significant barriers to employment, into high quality jobs and careers and help employers hire and retain skilled workers. Because each state developed its own four year strategic plan, the programs can be tailored to meet the specific needs of each state to develop a workforce tailored to their local business's needs.
Part of WIOA's mandate is to ensure that employment and training services provided by the core programs are coordinated and complementary so that job seekers acquire skills and credentials that meet employers' needs.
The term "workforce development" covers a wide variety of education and training opportunities provided by multiple agencies, institutions, and organizations and can relate to workers with a basic education or to those with a doctorate in a highly technical field.
This means educational interests from K 12 to community colleges and universities need to be at the community strategy table to understand the educational and skill needs of businesses now and in the future. Then, on the business side, WIOA treats businesses as equal customers in the system, by aligning training to their needs.
The goal is a comprehensive approach in workforce development programming, training, education, and individual support that bolsters the entire community. One particular challenge requiring this comprehensive approach is addressing the workforce needs created by retirements occurring in the Baby Boom generation. Here, WIOA is helping to fill the gap in skilled, qualified workers left behind.
For services jobs, like electricians and plumbers, the younger generation is often not aware of the need for these skills or the employment opportunities available for these trades. ACWDB is often the conduit between such businesses and a trained work force.
"When the school system stopped funding shop classes, several generations of people didn't know how to access those jobs or training for those jobs. The access to those jobs through apprenticeship programs had gone away. Our program offers people the training they need to get the jobs they want," says Castro.
Castro points out that data shows the wages in "trade jobs" will outgrow some jobs where a four year college degree is required. The state is funding a program called "Career Pathway" which is a series of structured and connected education programs and services that enable students, often while they are working, to advance over time to better jobs and higher levels of education and training.
For many industries, there is an urgency to find well trained, ready to hire employees. For communities to fuel continued economic prosperity, it is essential to provide opportunities for under educated workers, and for those who have not taken advantage of economic growth due to personal or educational barriers.
For many, college seems out of reach. With the Career Pathway program, the emphasis is on learning specific skills that translate into jobs because the employer has input into what they need an employee to know. The extensive list of services available to job seekers includes assessment, career counseling, development of an individual service plan, and intensive job search assistance. For employers, the Job Center at ACWDB offers job matching services, hiring and recruiting events, and customized training assistance at no cost.
According to a report by The Alameda County Workforce Development Board, the Tri Valley is expected to add 9,991 jobs to the region between 2017 and 2022, but without proper training and educational services, businesses may face a challenge in filling those positions.
While the economy has entered a period of sustained expansion and low unemployment for all demographic groups and in all regional labor markets, California's economy continues to be marked by demographic and regional inequality. Some of this inequality stems from differences in educational attainment, differences in demand by industry and occupation, and varying regional labor markets.
Another driving force of ACWDB's program is to assist younger people to find well paying jobs. California's youth face a particularly challenging labor market. In fact, the labor force participation rates among California youths, and particularly teens, have steadily eroded over time.
According to the report the State of California submitted to WIOA last year, people between the ages of 20 and 24 had an unemployment rate that was twice as high as individuals that were 35 years or older at 11.4 percent. Those in the labor force between the ages of 45 and 54 had the lowest unemployment rate 4.8 percent in July. The unemployed between the ages of 35 and 44 (5.1 percent); and 55 years and older (5.4 percent) had unemployment rates that were just over 5.0 percent.
Another factor in the disparate employment figures is a disconnection between what skills businesses need an employee to have and what is being taught in school, as well as what higher education options are available.
One of ACWDB's "signature" public/private partnership programs is an Engineer Technical Program available through Las Positas College. In May the program celebrated the accomplishments of 10 graduates from Cohort 2. Of the 10 graduating students, six have already received full time employment offers at both Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) and other local engineering companies, and two students plan to transfer within the next academic year to four year institutions to pursue engineering bachelor's degrees.
In another program, Cohort 3 students have begun summer internships. In addition to LLNL, students are being hosted by MDC Vacuum Products, Sandia National Laboratories, Gillig, Sensor Concepts Inc., Accsys Technology, SpectraPower, and Lam Research. Cohort 3 students create specific learning objectives they want to focus on and will receive mentorship and guidance from skilled professionals in the field. Internships are one of the cornerstones to the program that offers students training from industry professionals.
The Cohort program is a great example of businesses and the educational system working together. The program is seeded by employers, and the students enter the program as a group and stay together through each level.
Through a program like Cohort, students learn how to work with others, how to become an employee and how to be successful. "Cohort is a little learning community. The program is very beneficial because the students learn from each other, they support each other, they celebrate each other and help each other overcome challenges," says Castro.
For businesses in Hacienda, there is no better time to get involved and further contribute to growing the economy. ACWDB provides no cost training services for employers to assist in developing the workforce in Hacienda, and if a business hires one of the County sponsored job seekers, they receive reimbursement of the cost of training the new employee. For more information, visit www.acwdb.org/.