California’s High Road to Economic Success

Pam Sornson, JD

Pam Sornson, JD

July , 2022

California has been a trendsetter since its establishment, and it continues to blaze trails today. It’s in the process of converting its community colleges into workforce development engines, connecting those students to the jobs and careers that will grow the State’s economy. It’s also in the process of transitioning over to carbon-neutral energy sources, and it’s planning on connecting its economic goals to that project, too. Its ultimate goal is to ensure all “Californians thrive during and after the transition into a carbon-neutral economy,” and its strategy to pursue that goal is outlined in a 2020 report, “Putting California on the High Road: A Jobs and Climate Action Plan for 2030.”


Intentional Paths to Intentional Goals

Developed by the California Workforce Development Board (CWDB), the strategy aligns with that agency’s ‘Unified Strategic Workforce Development Plan,” a platform of actions to coordinate and leverage the impact of the State’s many and varied workforce, education, and economic programs. Additionally, the plan follows the mandate established by Assembly Bill 398 (E. Garcia, Chapter 135, Statutes of 2017), which requires California’s workforce development efforts to also address its equity and social justice concerns while pursuing a carbon-neutral economy. California’s plan is remarkable because it encompasses multiple sectors of social, economic, and environmental problems within a single, albeit complex, strategy to provide a better life for all its residents.


The ‘High Road’ Framework – In Pieces

Policymakers kept each sector’s (education, economy, and environment) fundamental policies at the center of the strategy and built connections and pathways from those through a series of three approaches to achieve the outcomes that unite them all.

Overarching Policies

Climate Sector Policies

California’s climate concerns continue to evolve, and the State is expecting another dry, hot summer. To address the climate conditions causing its environmental distress, the State is pursuing several initiatives to reduce its carbon footprint. It’s developing its renewable energy resources and its electric vehicle infrastructure, and encouraging the embrace of ‘Investor Owned Utilities Energy Efficiency’ (IOU EE) programs.

Economic Development Sector Policies

To build new economic strength and maintain existing economic assets, the State must attract and keep the attention of its businesses and industries. It does so by ensuring its economic policies offer appropriate incentives to ensure their success. Those incentives include public investments in private enterprises and providing access to a robust, well-trained labor force.

Education Sector Policies

Both existing and emerging industries require access to a talented labor pool, and California’s community colleges are on track to become that labor pool. Policies now connect programs and coursework at the community college level to the jobs in demand, which will continue to be in demand in the future. Further, the State has identified several key industries that promise significant growth opportunities; the colleges are designing training programs to meet that escalating demand.


Overarching Approaches

Achieving strategic outcomes requires developing approaches that both conform to policy and encompass the three fundamental sectors.

The ‘Demand Side’ Approach

Specifically related to achieving climate goals, the ‘demand side’ approach contemplates building a stronger, more robust renewable/alternate energy industry capable of meeting the State’s energy demand:

State-level investments will support new and established forms of renewable energy.

Workforce agreements will standardize performance metrics.

Wage disparities will be eliminated across all sectors.

The ‘Supply Side’ Approach

The supply side approach contemplates developing the workforce needed in response to the demand for well-trained labor:

Higher education schools and training facilities will include apprenticeships and pipeline training as fundamental elements of the educational process.

Businesses and industries will collaborate on training materials and methods.

Curricula upgrades will match industry demand, so students graduate ready to work.

The ‘Justice’ Approach

A ‘Just’ transition assumes that all Californians will benefit from the overarching strategy, especially those workers who’ve lost their jobs or haven’t had the resources to pursue a career path. By offering wrap-around social support to citizens who need them, the State is increasing their opportunity to engage and succeed in the new economic sphere.


 Intended Outcomes

Assuming policies are met, and approaches succeed, California’s intended outcomes will provide a sound infrastructure that will support its economy for decades to come:

The number and scope of ‘high quality’ jobs will grow, ensuring more workers have the opportunity to achieve the upward mobility they seek. ‘High quality’ jobs are those that pay well, respect the worker’s other obligations, provide a safe and fair workplace, and offer the opportunity to build new skills.

The number of eligible workers will increase as those who’ve previously been shut out of workforce development opportunities find access through new educational and social programs.

Companies and industries will find the skilled workforce they need in the communities in which they operate. Collaborations will ensure that the goals and activities of all parties – the schools, businesses, and policymakers – tie together to deliver economic benefits to the community as a whole.

Of course, the overall ‘High Road’ strategy report outlines how these efforts will impact the political, industrial, and economic sectors involved, and there are many of those, including the energy, transportation, logistics, waste and water, and natural land sectors.



California’s approach to resolving its climate concerns through strategic workforce and economic development policies is laudable and, again, sets a trend that other groups will certainly study and adopt. Each tenet of the plan’s strategy involves rethinking current practices and reworking them to reflect today’s economic realities:

Too many people are unable to achieve economic stability due to unnecessary political, biased, or ability barriers or constraints.

Current training resources don’t meet the needs of local businesses or industries.

Existing environmental threats caused by climate change and global warming will exasperate the economic malaise unless the State adopts and implements intentional and direct interventions to reduce or eliminate their impact.

While still in its infancy, the strategy offers hope and optimism that California will continue its role as a treand=setting leader for many more years.


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