Tri-Valley Business Groups Active in Workforce Development

The California economy, the fifth largest economy in the world, has experienced the longest period of sustained economic growth in several generations, according to a recent Littler Workplace Policy Institute report. "A substantial part of that growth is due to innovative business models that combine new ideas, technology and talent to invent something new. Many of these new business models did not exist prior to the recession of 2007-2009. The innovative environment in which California businesses operate played a large part in turning the state's economy around, putting the state on the road to economic recovery and growth.

"Virtually every segment of the economy in the Golden State has been transformed in the last 10 years. Businesses have rapidly adopted machine learning, artificial intelligence and robotics to increase efficiency and spur growth. Our modern economy is providing consumers with never-before-experienced convenience and on-demand functionality. In 2019, the world of work is profoundly different from that experienced just a few years ago. And that world of work is changing more and more each day."

Some argue that educational systems have not kept pace with the changing nature of work. In a 2017 McKinsey survey of young people and employers in nine countries, 40% of employers said lack of skills was the main reason for entry-level job vacancies. Some 60% said that new graduates were not adequately prepared for the world of work.

While the solution to this problem requires attention from a number of quarters, the work undertaken by employers in the workforce development arena over the last few years, both within the Tri-Valley and in the region, are notable and have informed a number of different efforts to insure the continued generation of talent suitable for contemporary work needs.

The Problematic Skills Gap

The changing nature of work and the resulting "skills gap" between available labor and available jobs has not gone unnoticed in the United States. In 2014, Congress passed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). WIOA replaced older legislation and was intended to provide employment and training services responsive to the needs of local area employers. The majority of the members of local Workforce Development Boards must be business representatives, and local boards must make annual plans to identify in-demand industry sectors and occupations as part of the requirements to qualify for government funding.

Closer to home, in 2015, the Bay Area Council sponsored an event to discuss the ongoing need for skilled workers. "Acute shortages of key technology skills regularly make headlines, but companies across nearly every economic sector in the Bay Area have been facing a growing mismatch between the talent they need and the skills that job applicants possess," read the event description. "This growing gap threatens companies' bottom lines and their very ability to grow: time and skill are money. To face this shortage, companies have been forced to build costly internal training programs, incur the higher costs to 'up skill' talent, and consider relocation of operations."

In response to concerns, the State of California established the Strong Workforce Program in 2016. This so-called K-14 state education, economic, and workforce development initiative was created to expand the availability of high-quality, industry-valued career technical education and workforce development courses, programs, pathways, credentials, certificates, and degrees. The state allocated $200 million the first year to support career education programs primarily via the 114 colleges in the California Community College system and their workforce development partners.

Local Groups Address Issues

The Strong Workforce Program has been welcomed by many who want California to maintain its economic leadership and who worry about the future of its workforce. While California ranks first in the nation in the total number of entry-level STEM positions available, for example, the state is underperforming in the rate of bachelor's degree completions in popular science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, according to the Institute for STEM Education, a program of California State University East Bay. By that measure California ranks 38th in computer science and 37th in engineering.

In some respects the Tri-Valley surpasses California, however. For example, 26% of Tri-Valley adults have attained a graduate or professional degree, according to Tri-Valley Rising 2018, a report from the Bay Area Council Economic Institute. Only 12% of California adults have a graduate or professional degree, compared to 19% for the Bay Area as a whole. Fully 62% of Tri-Valley adults have a bachelor's degree or higher, a strong talent pool that is attractive to employers.

Local employers and business groups appreciate the highly educated and highly skilled residents of the Tri-Valley. Moreover, they want such talent to be cultivated long into the future. One such organization, the Innovation Tri-Valley Leadership Group (ITV), created the Boomerang Project this summer as a concrete way to connect students from the Tri-Valley with local industry partners in an effort to help meet present and future workforce needs.

"Regardless of where our local students go off to college, we want them to return-or boomerang-home to grow their career right here in the Tri-Valley," says Lynn Wallace Naylor, CEO of ITV, a collective of businesses, research labs, educational institutions, and civic leaders working to create job opportunities in the Tri-Valley.

The inaugural Boomerang Project was an eight-week paid internship program that ran from June 17 to August 9, 2019. Graduating high school seniors, along with first- and second-year college students, were eligible to apply for the career development program, which matched students based on their career interests with partnering companies for 15 to 20 hours of work per week.

"Our students benefit from local work-based learning opportunities as it enhances their skills and creates greater connections with Tri-Valley employers," says ITV's Tim Sbranti, Director of Strategic Initiatives, who oversaw the project. "Our local industry partners benefit from the production of these talented students while training those who will be driving our region's economic future. By connecting our emerging young professionals with local industry leaders and each other now, we are fueling our region's growth and vitality now and for years to come."

The founding partners for ITV's Boomerang Project included The Switch incubator and coworking space in Livermore, Pedrozzi Foundation, and Las Positas College in collaboration with the Danville, Dublin, Livermore, Pleasanton, and San Ramon school districts. In creating the Boomerang Project, ITV and its founding partners were following best practices endorsed by McKinsey and others: "Companies face gaps in skills they need in a more technology-enabled workplace. They could benefit from playing a more active role in education and training, including providing better information about needs to learners and the education and training ecosystem, and proving better learning opportunities themselves."

Founded in 1944, the Bay Area Council has long been involved in workforce development and related issues. The group's Workforce of the Future Committee works via two primary programs: Occupational Councils and Inclusive Economy. Occupational Councils are focused on high-demand occupations and convene industry executives to diagnose skills gaps in their industry talent pipelines. The Inclusive Economy program builds career pathways for the region's talent through partnerships with community-based training organizations.

"Our mission is to connect employers with local, diverse talent and resolve and mitigate the issues that keep them apart," says Linda Bidrossian, Senior Vice President, Public Policy for the Bay Area Council.

As part of that mission, the Workforce of the Future Initiative launched in 2015. This tool allows employers, educators, and job seekers to identify and develop metrics around the highest demand middle-skills jobs across the Northern California megaregion. For each identified job, displays the job market size, job demand, projected job growth, and average wage, as well as educational programs offered in the Bay Area.

Thanks to national and state legislation as well as motivated business groups, a variety of approaches are being explored to ensure that the Tri-Valley will remain home to a highly educated workforce as well as innovative businesses contributing to a strong and healthy economy.

For more information about the Bay Area Council, please visit

For more information about the Innovation Tri-Valley Leadership Group, please visit

For information about the Alameda Workforce Development Board, please visit

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