Top Orange County Leaders Drive the Future of Workforce Development and Economic Growth through Collective Innovation

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Top Orange County Leaders Drive the Future of Workforce
Development and Economic Growth through Collective Innovation


“You can’t address the disconnect between the demand for talent and the supply without
innovation in education. This requires cross-sector partnerships that create opportunities to
combine complementary expertise.”
-Ian Williamson, Dean, UCI Paul Merage School of Business

In Orange County, California (OC), access to talent is a burning issue. Despite OC’s standing as a major economic engine – with a GDP of approx $260 billion – job supply data show that some of the largest industries in the county are facing an undersupply of local talent.

Orange County leaders are among the first in the nation to bring public and private sector organizations together in innovative ways to realign workforce development with employers’ critical talent needs and create pathways for local talent to good tech economy jobs.

The CEO Leadership Alliance Orange County (CLAOC) is leading a multi-stakeholder effort to build out OC to become a known center for tech talent and companies and create an AI Center of Excellence for research and training. Collectively, CLAOC and a powerhouse group of business leaders, talent leaders, education partners, and government experts are creating a new and flexible business-led workforce system for tech talent development and retention.

This spring, these leaders participated in CLAOC’s Future of Workforce Summit. We were proud to showcase many new collaborations and unique models that are addressing the region’s acute talent shortage.

CLAOC’s work to date shows that focused investment in building these talent pathways and establishing a true Tech Talent Hub will benefit our citizens, companies, and communities in a multitude of ways. Providing the training, visibility, and connections needed to secure higher paying digital-economy jobs will ultimately mean better access to housing, education, healthcare, and financial opportunity for people in our region.

Here are some of the innovations discussed during the Summit.

1. New pathways to high-paying, high-growth digital economy jobs.
When a bachelor’s degree is a prerequisite for a job, more than 60% of adult Americans are not allowed to compete for those jobs. That requirement immediately rules out 70% of African Americans, 83% of Latinos, and 81% of rural Americans. It says to them that, no matter what skills they have they cannot be considered for a position.

Yet the demand for local talent is significant. Ayebea Darko of McKinsey noted that for every person who completes a relevant degree or certificate, there are between two and 20 job openings in the county. Across industries and employers, including healthcare, manufacturing, and information technology, demand for talent in technology occupations continues to grow.

New models seek to remove hurdles to these occupations by developing talent in different ways in different locations and different modes of delivery and working with different types of partners. Initiatives aim to close equity and competency gaps while increasing representation of BIPOC in high-paying jobs.

Ingram Micro’s Greg Hauser explained that a degree is no longer necessary to apply for a job at his company. Instead the company and its hiring managers are thinking differently about the workforce and today’s talent. For example, the company invests in upskilling and reskilling by offering its employees training and industry certifications on technology platforms.

We also heard from Derek Kirk from Governor Newsom’s Office of Business and Economic Development about the State of California’s investment in the community economic resilience fund (CERF), which aims to purposefully build an inclusive and accessible California.


2. More rapid and accessible upskilling through credentialing.

New public-private partnerships are creating a through-line from education and training into jobs. The ecosystem approach is creating a more equitable and inclusive job market.

Amanda Brophy described Google’s career certificate program as another way to get high paying high growth jobs without a college degree. Local community colleges like Saddleback College offer hands-on training in IT support, project management, data analytics, or user experience design. Learners who complete the training earn a certificate that is recognized by a network of 150 employers that support the program by hiring the graduates.

And this reaches down to the high school level. For example, a cohort of students from Anaheim who completed the Google Data Analytics Certificate are going through a six-week paid career exploration experience with financial services firm EY during summer 2022. Students will apply their newly acquired skills on their action-research project focused on the EY global
initiative to bridge the digital divide.

CLAOC’s education partners are similarly credentialing individuals on the Amazon Web Services (AWS) platform and then providing placement into cloud computing jobs through industry partners. This industry-led approach is providing many individuals with their first tech-related job as well as the foundation for building a career in an area poised for long term growth.

Individuals start out as an AWS practitioner and can continually upskill to develop into specialties like machine learning or cyber security.

Additionally, CLAOC is piloting the first high school offering of Intel’s AI for Workforce. Through Coastline ROP, students gain a fundamental awareness of artificial intelligence and its role across all industry sectors. Upon completion, they will be prepared to join the Intel AI for Workforce full certificate program offered at Santa Ana College.

Sector strategies are another important area where certificates and credentialing are increasing the talent supply. There is a growing body of evidence to support using sector strategies as economic development engines.

In sectors like healthcare and advanced manufacturing, the need is urgent. For example, the state of California has a need for 500,000 allied health workers. While some workers will earn accredited bachelors and masters degrees in a traditional education model, these sectors are implementing training strategies at the certificate and industry-valued credential level to develop
a large workforce that is trained on their specific and unique requirements.


3. New, flexible programs help K-12 students gain early tech exposure and experience.

CLAOC is removing barriers to high-growth, high-paying jobs through several early interventions. These efforts aim to give every student the opportunity to develop AI-focused competencies. First, it is running its annual AI for Workforce career exploration initiative for juniors and seniors in high school, as well as for community college and university students. High school students can build on these skills by taking additional AI courses during summer school or at community college.

Loko AI CEO Joseph Zaki described an exciting program to develop high school students with AI skills. Anaheim School District and Loco AI, an OC-based security technology company, partnered on an initiative to establish real-world internships for top students. The extremely positive impact of this first-of-its-kind project is a showcase for similar investments in the future.

In addition, Jasmine Pachnanda, SVP, Artificial Intelligence SoCal for CLAOC, described how the organization is working to be the first in the nation to offer a supercomputer dedicated to the democratization of AI. Keith Strier, VP Worldwide AI Initiatives for Nvidia described the strategic alliance. Once the supercomputer is in place, CLAOC will offer it to Orange County students and others in the community so they can work with the technology and acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities to compete in an AI-infused world.

CLAOC is bringing all of these facets together to develop a robust tech talent pipeline that can fuel economic growth for years to come. CLAOC’s Tech Talent Hub approach and emerging AI Center of Excellence is creating new opportunities for students and adults to learn foundational skills, continue to build skills throughout their careers, and participate in the high-growth

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