If you’ve seen it, you know. I’m talking about the spark in the eyes of young people who discover a career path they didn’t know existed, who begin to recognize connections between what they’re learning now and the world of opportunities ahead.
Add to this the drive of employers who realize the significant role they can play in cultivating the workforce of the future — and who partner with their schools in bringing that future about.
Education and economy are intrinsically linked. When educators and employers work together, they transform communities by building the talent pipeline required for economic prosperity. We are poised to make those changes at scale and bring it to life as never before if we act wisely and collectively with our state’s $500 million investment in the Golden State Pathways program.
Still, current challenges might limit what we see ahead for ourselves and our state. No one can deny that we are living in a moment of severe labor shortages in so many industries, such as construction, health care, agriculture, and many more. Families and businesses alike are strapped by inflation. Our state is struggling to attract new minds and hearts and losing population — especially young families — to lower-cost locales.
We cannot allow these challenges to diminish our ability to connect education and the workforce in ways that strengthen our talent pipeline and generate social equity and economic opportunity for all. We’ve got what it takes to problem solve, grow, and inspire. These very deterrents can fuel our determination to do better.
As president of the California Foundation for Commerce and Education, a think tank affiliated with CalChamber, I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate on the bridge building, research, and progress of the Linked Learning approach. By integrating rigorous academics with real-world learning and strong support services, Linked Learning prepares students for success in both college and career.
The Golden State Pathways program is rooted in the evidence and impact of this proven approach, which has a long and rich history of breaking down silos between school, industry, and community to make our state’s systems work better for young people and our economy.
I’ve seen how some of our members, like The Wonderful Company in the San Joaquin Valley and Sutter Health in Sacramento, among many employers spanning industries throughout California, have collaborated closely with their local school districts and postsecondary institutions to develop, test, and strengthen educational pathways that build on their mutual strengths and needs.
I’ve seen employer-informed and -supported internships, student projects, mentorships, and career-tech experiences integrate with rigorous academics and crucial student support services on a path to valuable, job-ready skills and credentials.
Through Linked Learning, everyone wins. Students experience a path into an industry that is rewarding on many levels. In health care pathways, for example, they’re encountering not just doctors and nurses, but administrative and tech jobs with relevance everywhere.
In agriculture pathways, they’re encountering not just fieldwork but business, biosciences, and more. Within and beyond the industry specifics, students are exposed to careers that connect to their passions and sense of purpose.
Employers also benefit from participation. They are actively reaching out, building awareness, interest, skills, and relationships salient to the work that must be done for their own growth and for their communities at large.
They have a hand in building the pipeline of talent they really need and that they will use, rather than waiting to see what might otherwise show up from training agencies. They develop talent locally and help create the kinds of workplaces and communities that attract even more. They and their collaborators in education smooth the transition from classroom to productive employment.
The Golden State Pathways program will expand these types of transformative learning opportunities to many more young people throughout the state, but we must work together to ensure the vision of this unprecedented investment is met with a collective commitment to high-quality implementation.
Active Parts for All
We need to articulate a shared value proposition that makes it clear we can’t wait until students have graduated from high school to fix California’s talent pipeline. Messaging matters, and so do the messengers.
A diverse cross-sector coalition of public and private leaders must be engaged to make a compelling case for why employers, particularly those most stressed by labor shortages, should make this a priority. All have a part to play in realizing the potential of Golden State Pathways, including:
Proactive, ongoing employer engagement is central to the high-quality implementation of Linked Learning and will also be critical to making the vision of Golden State Pathways a reality. For my part, I’ll be encouraging local chambers of commerce and employers not yet engaged in their schools in this way to explore what’s possible, learn from their colleagues across industries, and make meaningful commitments.
If we are going to cultivate the highly skilled and talented workforce our state needs, it starts with learning that is personally and professionally relevant in K–12. Schools will need to approach this work systemically to remove barriers that too often prevent collaboration with employers.
We need steady liaisons who speak the same language, understand and reinforce the value to employers, and work across sectors to bring coherence to the learning experience, bridging the gaps between K–12, postsecondary, and the workforce. All of this takes staffing and resources.
State and local education leaders working with these new dollars must make sure that they reach school districts that serve students across communities hit hardest by the pandemic, economic hardship, and generations of inequity and neglect. Policymakers must also recognize just how golden this opportunity is and make the most of it.
We have a budget and vision that recognizes the link between education and economy. We must work together to hold ourselves accountable and ensure we work collectively to keep this vision on track with our ambitions for California communities.
This is our golden moment to support young people of color and those growing up in low-income households disproportionately impacted by the pandemic — and who together account for the vast majority of our school-age population. Definitionally, mathematically, this is how we advance opportunity and prosperity. It’s how we solve our talent crisis now and far into the future.
As I’ve seen in Linked Learning, combining college and career in thoughtful ways really works for students, employers, and communities. I’ve witnessed the spark and the drive it unleashes and what that can do. And the collaboration it takes to do it well.
We’ve got the budget, the vision, and the know-how to build a better talent pipeline, connecting education and workforce development more profoundly across our state. This is our golden opportunity to work together and make it happen.
Loren Kaye is president of the California Foundation for Commerce and Education, a think tank affiliated with the California Chamber of Commerce.