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January 19, 2018

Along with the new year comes a new economic forecast for San Diego County. On January 18, a panel of experts gathered to discuss the future of the economy, urban development, aging population and the region’s growing Blue Economy at the 34th Annual San Diego County Economic Roundtable hosted by the University of San Diego School of Business and co-presented by the San Diego Workforce Partnership (SDWP), the County of San Diego and the San Diego Union-Tribune.

SDWP’s director of research, Sarah Burns, spoke on strengthening San Diego’s workforce in 2018 by focusing on these five priority sectors: Life sciences, information and communication technologies, health care, clean energy and advanced manufacturing.

“Between 32 and 58 percent of employers told us that they’re expecting to add new permanent positions to these sectors in the next 12 months,” says Burns.

The presentation also brought awareness to the staggering number of opportunity youth that make up 9.7 percent of all San Diegans between the age of 16 and 24. This population is not working and not enrolled in school. Developing workforce trends show that companies are not only becoming more involved in developing the talent pipeline, but schools are investing more in career education. Fortunately, there are readily available resources for opportunity youth, as well. San Diego Continuing Education (SDCE), for instance, is expanding services to opportunity youth in San Diego through their Gateway to College and Career program. The program helps young adults 18 and up decide on a career while helping them accomplish both educational and workforce goals. 

Within the classroom, community leaders around San Diego are introducing workforce pathways to the modern K–12 curriculum which are meant to close the gap in the current education system and prepare students for the modern workforce. A prime example of this work is the Cajon Valley Union School District and their newly implemented World of Work Initiative (WoW). The WoW approach helps students develop understanding of career opportunities that fit their strengths and interests, based on career development research.

“There is nothing like this happening globally grounded in career development theory,” says Ed Hidalgo, Chief Innovation and Engagement Officer at Cajon Valley Union School District.

However, it’s about more than just workforce pathways, says Hidalgo. “We need to rewrite the script around how we are preparing kids for the world of work. It should begin with developing the human. Identifying interests, building self-efficacy and then aligning them to the pathway…then they can begin to see the value of lifelong learning and develop the desire and persistence (through counseling) to go further in their education.”

Digging deeper into the nature and power of interests will increase the likelihood of students enjoying the career they pursue. In addition, we must be supporting students throughout all stages of their education to sustain the benefits of workforce pathway initiatives and programs.

What about the students who are not planning to attend college?

In 2016, 27 percent of jobs in San Diego required a bachelor’s degree or more as typical entry-level education. This means the remaining 73 percent of jobs were opportunities available to people not pursuing a four-year degree. Teaching young people early on that they have more than one option after high school is significant for connecting youth with careers that they are truly interested in—leading to career longevity for the individual and quality workers for the employers. At the same time, workforce initiatives encourage post-secondary education in the form of educational programs like Qualcomm’s Thinkabit Lab, founded by Hidalgo, which inspires students to become the next generation of STEM innovators. 

Workforce pathway initiatives are not just for high school students, either. Middle school programs such as Vista Unified School District’s middle schools are involved in a pilot program called Talent Cities.

Robert Crowell, Service Learning and Community Partnerships Lead for Vista Unified, states, “Talent Cities is more than a field trip; students engage in self-exploration activities and assessments, research priority sectors, and develop the background knowledge to make the most of the experience. Students who engaged in Talent Cities have shown greater interest in priority sector careers and identified areas for personal growth including communication, organization, and patience.”

Overall, career pathway efforts are not only beneficial to the development of student adaptability and success, but to our city’s ever-growing and ever-changing workforce economy. If we want to fight labor shortages in San Diego, close the skills gap between employees and employers, and support our opportunity youth, we must first make the five priority sectors a priority in our school curriculums.



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