California’s ‘Strata’ of Workforce Development Sectors

Pam Sornson, JD

July 19, 2022

California’s workforce development sector has rarely been in more turmoil than it is today. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, technology-driven upheavals in workplace norms were already causing struggles between employers and employees. Pandemic-driven technological innovations and the public health crisis exacerbated those challenges, making large segments of the state’s traditional employment roles and jobs obsolete. Workers who kept their jobs started examining their attachment to their work – and their loyalty to their employer. Some wanted better working conditions; others simply quit to find new employment opportunities elsewhere.

And everywhere, economic disruptions drove – and continue to drive – the discontinuation of traditional work standards and the emergence of whole new systems of occupational expectations. Understanding the consequences of all that turmoil and structuring the state’s subsequent economic reality to optimize those changes is the single common focus of California’s workforce development ‘strata.’


California’s Workforce Development Strata

Strata‘ – a series of layers – appears to be an apt description of the aggregate of governments, agencies, and industries investing in building a stronger, more robust economy in the wake of technological and biological disruptors. In California, each ‘stratum’ – single layer – is working in high gear within its sphere of influence to address the myriad of economic and workforce challenges and opportunities that continue to evolve within its individual purview. Together, all those ‘stratum’ – ‘strata’ being plural – are contributing to the State’s emergence from these crises with a more robust economy and a healthy, well-trained, well-employed population.


Workers at the Heart of it All

This economic and workforce development process is based partly on the state’s mandate to convert its community colleges into workforce development engines. The community college system didn’t start with this lofty goal, though, and its efforts since its inception in 1910 haven’t been directed at tailoring all operations to meet a single (albeit varied) goal. However, that lack of vision changed in 2012 when California’s leadership began its investment in this new direction. The State tasked the California Community College Chancellor’s Office (CCCCO) with implementing its ‘Strong Workforce Program‘ to tie the education and training outputs of community colleges with the labor and workforce demands of the state’s thousands of businesses and industries. By connecting the efforts of both strata – education and employment – the State intends to raise the economic fortunes of both.


Mapping the Strata

In the effort to accomplish that long-term goal, the coalescing strata of workforce development entities are now exploring ways to tap into and engage with community college resources and each other. Mapping this constellation of players helps explain who is doing what work, and why and how they’re coming together to remedy these critical economic and social situations.

Foundational Players:

Educators, Employees, and Employers

From the community college perspective, current students are future employees, so coursework and programs must provide them with the skills and abilities they’ll need to pursue their chosen careers. For many students, however, college success requires more than just the right class availability. Sometimes it also requires peripheral support to ensure the learner can focus on their education, such as transportation or food assistance, special needs accommodations, or added remedial courses. Today’s community colleges are stepping up services to provide these foundational supports in addition to relevant programs to ensure tomorrow’s workforce is fully prepared to contribute their best on day one of their first job.

Employers are also a foundational element of the workforce development strata. Industries are comprised of businesses, and businesses are run by their workforce. Helping employers attain the best trained and equipped staff is also a goal on the community college radar. California’s community colleges are building new relationships with local and regional employers and strategizing with them to develop current, appropriate, and timely job training opportunities. These partnerships – educator and employer – are essential to economic growth because the effort of one is so critical to the success of the other.


Community Players:

Governmental, Economic, and Industrial

Social policies also drive workforce development efforts, and local, regional, and state-level governments add incentives and support to make the process easier for all.

Governmental Entities

At the federal level, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) of 2014 was the first new legislation since 1998 to address workers’ and employers’ needs. In California, these activities are connected through America’s Job Center of California, which manages employment-related benefits for job seekers. In addition, California’s Workforce Development Board (CWDB) oversees statewide efforts and develops policies and initiatives to move the process forward.

Economic Entities

At the state level, the Centers of Excellence (CoE) work as the labor market research resource for California’s community colleges. Based regionally, these research organizations provide leaders in all sectors with the crucial workforce, industry, and economic data needed to drive decisions.

In Los Angeles County, the Center for a Competitive Workforce (CCW) collaborates with industries, businesses, and educators to respond to emerging skills, programming, and occupation demands. In addition, the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC) and the San Gabriel Valley Economic Partnership (SGCEP) contribute insights, guidance, and advocacy to regional workforce development entities and initiatives.

Industrial Entities

In its quest to build the most robust possible economy, California established a series of ten ‘priority’ industries that reflect those industrial sectors most likely to grow and help the state prosper. From agriculture to technology, leaders in these industries routinely collaborate with governments, educators, and economic experts, providing data, insights, and other assets to the workforce development agenda.


Thinktank Players

Of course, there are experts outside these sectors that contribute significant assistance to the workforce development discussion. A notable few include:

Jobs for the Future (JFF): With its focus on equity, JFF offers guidance and connections to work-based learning and apprenticeship opportunities, among many other projects.

The Milken Institute (Milken): Milken provides pivotal research on medical, healthcare, financial, and economic topics designed to help all strata of the global society achieve their next best step.

The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW): Based at Georgetown University in Washington D.C., this organization evaluates the economic impact of schools and education avenues on students’ lives and the communities in which they live.

The ECMC Foundation (ECMC): The Educational Credit Management Corporation focuses its attention on ensuring all learners get the support they need to achieve college success. Its Basic Needs Initiative, for example, donated over $3 million to support college students experiencing food or housing insecurity.


California has one of the most complex and diverse economies in the world. Not surprisingly, any unrest in any sector will affect all other sectors eventually. Fortunately, the strata of organizations that populate its workforce development sector are working together to address common concerns and challenges that threaten its economic future. With this much talent directed to those achieving common goals, California will certainly maintain its role as a global leader in workforce development policy and practice.

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