Future of Work Keynote Speaker Stewart Knox Talks About Connections

Pam Sornson, JD

The October 26th 5th Annual Future of Work Conference hosted by the Economic and Workforce Division of Pasadena City College (PCC EWD) was an unabashed success. The event gathered individuals from all walks of the EWD sector to discuss how government, industry, and the higher education system will rework their collaborations to meet tomorrow’s labor force demands. The crowd of close to 200 professionals was treated to two lively panel conversations, two informative and inspiring keynote addresses, and several insightful and well-informed questions.

This edition of the Pulse presents comments made by the invited elected officials, one each from city, regional, and state governments. Pasadena Mayor Victor Gordo, 49th District Representative Mike Fong, and Stewart Knox, Secretary of California’s Labor and Workforce Development Agency (LWDA), all brought compelling tales about what their agency is doing to support EWD initiatives. While each represents a unique population, they all face similar challenges: who needs work? Who needs workers? How do we connect the two?


Secretary, CA LWDA, Stewart Knox

Keynote Speaker Stewart Knox, Secretary of California’s Labor & Workforce Development Agency

Almost 30 years of EWD experience informs Mr. Knox’s leadership of this critically important state agency. In addition to his work here, he’s also spent much of his career working in and with the California Community College system, the California Employment Training Panel, and the Northern Rural Training and Employment Consortium. Several Counties have also benefitted from his role in their EWD environments.

As keynote speaker, Mr. Knox was enthusiastic about the future of California’s economic development strategies and especially about the emerging collaborations arising from enhanced partnerships between government agencies, industries, and colleges. He underscored the need for ‘connections’ at this critical juncture in the State’s economic trajectory. “Our work has changed a lot,” he notes. “Artificial Intelligence will change it more. Our EWD system is growing and changing, and we need to be prepared to change with it.”

The looming changes he sees are many:

High school students today are expected to change jobs or careers at least ten times in their lives.

Seniors (people over 50) are continuing to work beyond the traditional retirement age of 65.

Many workers need training and upskilling to find work in the post-COVID era.

Technology is disrupting more industries than ever before, and that trend will only grow.

The data suggest that an educational/industry restructure that incorporates ‘lifelong learning’ as a central tenet will respond to all of these emerging concerns. Mr. Knox encouraged conference attendees to include the design and build of lifelong learning programs into their ongoing discussions.


He also noted how the state government is addressing these issues. Its investment in apprenticeship development is significant and on target. More than one in three California high school graduates do not pursue further education, and many of those end up in menial or only entry-level occupations. Instead, Mr. Knox suggests they consider finding an apprenticeship in an industry they like. California has over 800 recognized apprenticeship jobs and over 1,400 apprenticeship programs training ~73,000 workers to take them. In fact, the State is so invested in these programs that it’s investing hundreds of millions of dollars to grow the available number of apprenticeship spots to half a million by the year 2029.

Knox says the State is also fully invested in evolving its connections with its community college system. The colleges provide services to underserved learners, and California wants to help each school meet the needs of its particular populations. Knox suggests that enhancing the support offered by career centers can help more students get through to not just their certifications but also the jobs they seek. Connecting these students with industry-specific counselors, as well, will also improve graduation and job placement metrics.


Looking forward, the Labor Secretary noted the State’s involvement with academic committees, industry leaders, and union representatives to ensure that all players in the sector are engaged in the same conversation.

The State is developing innovative marketing campaigns to attract students back to school after a significant drop-off during and after the pandemic.

In the colleges, for-credit and non-credit course completion will be recognized as ‘educational acquisition’ for credentialing purposes.

The Academic committees will have the information they need to make appropriate decisions for institutional investments.

The State is also expanding its partnerships with unions. Union membership numbers ~2.5 million, and those jobs are responsible for maintaining much of the State’s infrastructure. As the unions themselves grow, so will their support from and engagement with the public agencies that need those well-trained labor resources.

The government is working on itself, too. According to Secretary Knox, the state legislature is reviewing statutes to eliminate those that don’t support today’s EWD demands. Too many of the current regulations were designed and implemented in very different economic times.

More financial support is encouraged, as well. State coffers are already dedicating millions of dollars to educational directives. The federal government offers additional funding, too, especially, says Knox, in conjunction with the Pathways Program, which provides funding for internships in many industries.


The experience Secretary Knox brings to his role is invaluable for how it informs his decisions going forward. Early in his career, he was teaching GED classes to students who had lost their jobs due to contractions in the timber industries. They, too, were seeking new skills to obtain a new future in a new job. Knox sees the same unemployment issues emerging now from the petroleum and other industries as those are evolving post-COVID and in this new economic era. He’s using that gained knowledge and inputs from today’s technology to build appropriately responsive job training opportunities.

California is fortunate to have a man with the qualifications of Stewart Knox in the top leadership position at its premier economic development agency.

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