Newsom’s education budget is an opportunity for California’s workforce talent supply

Courtesy: Linked Learning Alliance

Linked Learning students in the Antelope Valley Union High School District use industry-standard models to support their learning in a health journey.

We see daily headlines complaining about the challenges companies face in finding talent, which poses an imminent threat to California’s economy. While companies struggle to hire the people they need, Californians struggle to find jobs that support a good quality of life.

Having a post-secondary degree is still the best bet for earning a family support wage in a meaningful career. But two years after the pandemic, the numbers are going in the wrong direction. The high school graduation rate has dropped. Community college and four-year college enrollment rates are falling simultaneously.

And yet we are cautiously optimistic: Governor Gavin Newsom’s budget blueprint for 2022–23 presents a significant opportunity to invest in our talent supply chain. Linking education to workforce development, this budget would prepare young people for careers in high-impact sectors and build communities for economic justice, if done right. It indicates a timely investment in one of our greatest assets – adolescents – during the ‘decade of difference’, the formative time between 14 and 24 in which identities, dispositions and aspirations take shape.

This is what gives us hope:

First of all, a bold goal. The governor set an ambitious goal that 70% of Californians would complete a post-secondary degree by 2030. This is the kind of goal setting that makes educators work together toward a shared goal.

Second, the budget includes additional investments in college and career preparation that are essential to realize these college aspirations and build the strong workforce California companies need, including investments in college and career paths, dual enrollment and the teacher preparation pipeline.

In order for the Governor’s investment strategy to truly support students and communities, we must ensure that college and career paths are available to the majority of California students and implemented in conjunction with K-12, higher education programs. and workforce readiness initiatives to deliver seamless transitions and accelerated experiences that lead to great jobs. This reflects an important reality for California’s adolescents. The linear path from school to college to a good job is largely an imagined ideal. Students often have to work, and pathways that combine learning and earning meet the demands and needs of everyone.

In Linked Learning we see the impact of bringing school, career and college together. Attend the CORE Academy at Arroyo Valley High School. Students come into contact with green energy and technology. They prepare for assessment by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners, which gives students an industry certification in an alternative energy field. By their senior year, students are installing solar panels for low-income community members in partnership with Grid Alternatives.

In Oakland Unified School District, high school pathways connect students with public health facilities and teaching hospitals to improve educational and long-term employment outcomes for the region’s youth of color while expanding and diversifying the healthcare workforce. Participants graduated from high school and enrolled in college at higher rates than their peers in traditional education. The percentage of low-income and black students in health trajectories also increased, fueling a greater push toward equality.

It is time to build on these past investments. Despite unrelenting disruptions, adolescents have ambitious goals, energy to pursue them, and a remarkable clarity about what they need to achieve—highly supportive educational experiences with stronger links to career opportunities. During the first wave of the pandemic, more than 7 in 10 Linked Learning students surveyed said being part of a supportive college and career path kept them motivated, engaged and connected, despite the disruption of school closures.

At a time of hardship and difficult questions, the governor’s education budget presents us with opportunity: investing in adolescents by meaningfully connecting learning and workforce development, and building on past investments and systems that enable equality.

We can do this. And we encourage policy makers to move forward with us so that our talent offering can help us move forward into the future.

Anne Stanton is president of the Linked Learning Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for and certifies career paths in schools.

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