We see headlines daily bemoaning the challenges businesses face in finding talent, posing a looming threat to California’s economy. While businesses struggle to hire the people they need, Californians struggle to find jobs that support a good quality of life.
Having a postsecondary credential is still the best bet for earning a family-supporting wage in a meaningful career. But two years into the pandemic, the numbers are moving in the wrong direction. High school graduation rates are down. Community college and four-year college enrollment rates are simultaneously declining.
And yet, we are cautiously optimistic: Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 2022–23 budget blueprint presents an important opportunity to invest in our supply chain of talent. By connecting education to workforce development, this budget would prepare youth for careers in high-impact industries and set communities up for economic justice, if we do it right. It signals a timely investment in one of our biggest assets — adolescents — during the “decade of difference,” the formative time between 14 and 24 where identities, dispositions and aspirations take shape.
Here’s what gives us hope:
First, a bold goal. The governor set an ambitious target of 70% of Californians earning a postsecondary credential by 2030. This is the kind of goal-setting that keeps education leaders working together toward a shared aim.
Second, the budget includes complementary college and career preparation investments essential to making these college completion ambitions a reality and to building the strong workforce California businesses need, including investments in college and career pathways, dual enrollment and the teacher preparation pipeline.
For the governor’s investment strategy to truly support students and communities, we must ensure that college and career pathways are available to the majority of California’s students and that they are implemented in tandem with K-12, higher education, and workforce readiness initiatives to provide seamless transitions and accelerated experiences that lead to good 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 need to work, and pathways that blend learning and earning meet the demands and needs of all.
In Linked Learning, we see the impact of bringing school, career and college together. Take the CORE Academy in Arroyo Valley High School. Students are exposed to green energy and technology. They prepare for the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners assessment, which provides students with an industry certificate 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 to public health institutions and teaching hospitals to improve the educational and long-term employment outcomes for youth of color in the region while expanding and diversifying the health care workforce. Participants graduated from high school and enrolled in college at higher rates than their peers in traditional schooling. The percentage of low-income and Black students in health pathways also increased, providing a greater onramp toward equity.
The time has come to build on these previous investments. Despite unrelenting disruptions, adolescents have ambitious goals, energy to go after them and a remarkable clarity about what they need to realize them — highly supportive educational experiences with stronger links to career opportunities. During the first surge of the pandemic, more than 7 in 10 Linked Learning students surveyed said that being part of a supportive college and career pathway kept them motivated, engaged and connected to purpose despite the disruption of school closures.
In a time of hardship and hard questions, the governor’s education budget puts opportunity squarely before us: to invest in adolescents by meaningfully connecting learning and workforce development and to build upon past investments and systems that enable equity.
We can do this. And we encourage policymakers to move forward with us, so our supply of talent can lead us forward into the future.
Anne Stanton is president of the Linked Learning Alliance, a nonprofit that advocates for and certifies career pathway programs in schools.
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