Torres: The role community colleges play in increasing economic mobility
Photo courtesy of SJECCD.

Silicon Valley is seen by many as a place where job opportunities are plentiful, that is true depending on one’s background and skill set. However, for many who have not had the opportunity to develop certain skills to access the tech sector, those opportunities become scarce.

One of the most evident aspects of an equitable society is a strong middle class. A healthy middle class is possible by providing access to high-quality job opportunities to anyone regardless of educational background, race or immigration status.

An essential component of increasing economic mobility in a community is increasing access to a robust workforce development system that provides students access to in-demand skill sets. As we in Silicon Valley work toward creating equity, we need to collaborate with various sectors, including labor, business and our community college system, in order to establish pipelines to employment that benefit the working class and the employer community.

By establishing a coalition of the willing, we can work together in order to create job opportunities so that residents of any background have the opportunity to make a living for themselves and their families.

In order to implement an effective workforce development system, there needs to be a slew of programs, training certification courses and apprenticeships to adequately train a new workforce of skilled workers. For many of these programs and courses, California’s community colleges are the ideal place, these colleges have existing student bodies as well as the ability to promote new programs for prospective enrollees.

A report released last year from the National Skills Coalition sheds light on several key points related to workforce development and the necessity to implement a system statewide. The report alludes to the need to create more “middle-skill” jobs, which require some post-secondary education, but not a 4-year degree. These jobs pay family-supporting wages and are in various
fields including manufacturing, health services, information technology, construction and retail.

These are the opportunities for our students that we must double down on to increase economic mobility right here in Silicon Valley. In the city of San Jose, the more “middle-skill” jobs become available, the more city residents have access to making a livable wage and continue living in the place they call home.

San Jose-Evergreen Community College District is keen to build upon successful partnerships to ensure students leave our schools with the skills and training they need to gain meaningful careers. Our colleges should transform the way they approach workforce development, career technical education and skills development on campus to ensure students who are pursuing a career pathway do eventually achieve a living wage, as outlined by the new Student Centered Funding Formula.

Apprenticeship and other forms of paid work-based learning give students the chance to train for a good job and get an in-demand license or post-secondary credential, all while earning a paycheck. Businesses also benefit from work-based learning because they can use it to train workers on-site to meet the specific skill needs of both their firm and the broader industry.

Despite these advantages, California faces challenges in bringing apprenticeship and work-based learning to scale for new industries and new workers. Businesses, particularly small and medium-sized ones, in industries where apprenticeship is not common (such as IT and health care) may need help understanding, developing and starting these programs. Workers often need better access and support to take full advantage of these programs, and it is up to community college leadership to ensure these opportunities are fully utilized.

As the cost-of-living continues to rise, policymakers must be creative in developing multiple solutions to certain issues, including affordable housing and raising the minimum wage at a faster rate than the rest of the state.

However, if we are to truly create a balanced local economy where residents of all backgrounds have access to good jobs, we need a broad coalition of partners from community colleges, labor, business and community-based organizations to work on implementing an equitable workforce development system locally and play a key role in statewide efforts to ensure that all Californians are afforded the opportunity to live the California Dream.

Omar Torres is a community leader who serves as the community outreach coordinator for San Jose Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco. He is running for the San Jose-Evergreen Community College Board of Trustees in November.

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