Solano EDC discusses workforce preparedness in virtual panel

April 02 2022

Solano EDC discusses workforce preparedness in virtual panel

The Reporter By  | |

PUBLISHED: April 1, 2022 at 5:37 p.m. | UPDATED: April 1, 2022 at 6:45 p.m.

Students spend much of their K-12 education thinking about what sort of career they want after they graduate high school, and career technical education (CTE) courses are a major component of modern-day schooling, giving students options for future careers.

But how do education institutions take that a step further? That was the main topic of a virtual panel hosted by Solano Economic Development Corporation Friday.

“Educating Tomorrow’s Workforce,” part of Solano EDC’s Speaker Series, featured insights by educational officials at both the local and federal level, including a staff member of the U.S. Department of Education.

Solano EDC Executive Director Chris Rico said education was “a relevant part of the workforce puzzle.”

“There’s so many workforce issues in the marketplace,” he said. “To that end, we’re gonna talk about career and technical education.”

Prior to the panel, Rico introduced two other attendees to deliver their thoughts: Elsa Flores, public affairs director for Kaiser Permanente for the Napa-Solano area, and Rep. John Garamendi.

Flores said Kaiser was proud to partner with Solano EDC.

“Building pathways out of poverty for our local area begins with training our people for the jobs of the future,” she said. “We believe that a trained workforce will bring business, and as you know, business creates job opportunities.”

Garamendi said the CARES Act and Affordable Care Act have pumped a lot of money into health care, the research and manufacturing corridor along Interstate 80 is growing rapidly with the expansion of the University of California, Davis and the growth of biotechnology businesses in Vacaville, and a $13 million retrofit of Mare Island’s Dry Dock would bring approximately 2,000 jobs to the island.

“We’re looking at just these three elements creating a significant demand for well-trained, well-prepared people,” he said.

Still, Garamendi said apprenticeship programs in building trade and union jobs should be expanded.

“I’ve not heard of an apprenticeship program in the Kaiser system, but I think you ought to consider it,” he said.

From there, Rico introduced the panel, which consisted of:

  • Dr. John Garcia III, senior adviser for the Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development at the U.S. Department of Education.
  • Cami Anderson, the CEO of Third Way Solutions, former superintendent of Newark Public Schools in New Jersey and former executive director of Teach for America in New York City, among other things.
  • Lisette-Estrella Henderson, Solano superintendent of schools.
  • Kelly Birch, director of college and career readiness with the Solano County Office of Education.

Rico asked Garcia about CTE programs being put in place and how American Rescue Plan Act funds would impact CTE. Garcia said the Biden administration’s budget for the next fiscal year is aiming to increase Title 1 funding, doubling the amount of Pell grants, setting aside $323 million for teacher partnership quality grants and placing a major emphasis on CTE.

“We really believe that a skilled workforce is critical for both our communities and our economy,” he said. “it is a big part of what we believe is the solution for, as we say, Building Back Better.”

To that end, Garcia said goals include putting in money to introduce CTE as early as middle school and a $208 million grant proposal for “Career Connected High Schools,” a competitive grant initiative that would create or strengthen partnerships among local school districts, higher education institutions and employers to align the last two years of high school and the first two years of postsecondary schooling to focus on career-based pathways.

“Within that, we want to have dual enrollment opportunities, core-connected coursework, work-based learning connected to programs of study, attainment in demand career-related credentials, navigation support, and career curricular professional development alignment will also provide support for technical assistance and evaluation as part of that grant structure,” he said.

Rico asked about the work SCOE is doing, and Estrella-Henderson said there were 52 different courses offered in 19 different pathways throughout the county.

“What that speaks to is the variety of opportunities that our school districts, superintendents and their teams are really building up for students,” she said. “We recognize that, when you’re talking about social justice and equity, often our most disenfranchised students and marginalized students are truly amazing and creative if given the right learning space and can take their learning to the next level.”

Birch said that 33% of classes in SCOE schools were articulated for college credit, allowing for dual credits, and 50% of classes fulfill an a-g requirement.

“We’ve been really trying to change the focus in Solano County and the discussion on, not which college you want to attend, but what are you interested in,” she said. “What are you good at, and how can that morph into a career that you can enjoy and that you can earn a living and raise a family here in Solano County?”

Rico asked Anderson about what she learned from her experience in creating different programs in different educational sectors. Anderson said she had one of the largest CTE portfolios in the country with 13 theme-based high schools and 37 pathway programs.

Among the programs Anderson was proud of were a licensed practical nursing program, training paraprofessionals to become teachers and using grant funding to get community members who were already running day care centers out of their homes to be paid to go back to school and become certified in management training and to expand their footprint.

“Three years later, we saw a spike in our literacy rates,” she said.

Anderson said there was “room to get even more out of the box,” including possibly renaming CTE.

“There’s a whole new world out there, and we need to make sure that whatever we’re building right now is helping kids and young adults who have been failed the most by our system, help them get on the faster belt to a wide range of web options, not the slower belt to getting a job,” she said.

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