A good friend of mine, Phil Alfano, Superintendent of Patterson Schools, has created an exceptional collaborative model between education, business, economic development and government to prepare young people for jobs in the growing logistics industry in Patterson. This past week a group of educators and businesspeople traveled with Phil to Southern California to check out the Norco Logistics Center, a similar collaborative in Riverside County. On the way back to Stanislaus County, Alfano spoke to a group in Kern County to share his experiences building the coalition in Patterson. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery. Phil is working directly with Amazon, Grainger, Kohl's, Rite Aid and Restoration Hardware to learn how best to prepare his students for jobs in their facilities. The district has constructed a training center where high school students can learn to operate a forklift, run sophisticated conveyor systems and operate efficiently in a distribution center. By the time participating students get through the program, they will be ready to work directly for these companies. Jobs pay around $15 per hour with benefits. Many of the companies will reimburse tuition. There is a path for upward mobility for those who apply themselves.
The Stanislaus Business Alliance would like to work with other school districts to build workforce training opportunities similar to what Patterson has accomplished. We need to start with kids who are in middle school, show them the work possibilities that are out there, and then give them the training that will help them get through the door. We have learned that there are many job openings that are going unfilled because companies can't find the people with the necessary skills.
Here is an idea of how we could possibly do it. We would first invite other school districts to adopt the Patterson model. We would invite them to reach out to local businesses that are searching for job applicants with skills. We would encourage the companies to use the WorkKeys system to profile their positions. And then we would invite the school districts to run WorkKeys assessments of their 8th and 9th graders to see how close they come to the company WorkKeys profiles. If there are gaps, the educators will know what they need to do to get their kids ready to qualify for these jobs by the time they are seniors. We need to start with middle schoolers and not wait until they are in high school. There are job opportunities in this county, and we need to do a better job communicating that to the kids.
So in short, here is what I am proposing. 1) School districts adopt the Patterson model for what applies to them. (Some may choose maintenance mechanics. Some may choose healthcare. Some may choose robotics.) 2) Build direct relationships with employers who need these skills. 3) Employers profile their positions through the WorkKeys profiling program. 4) School districts have their 8th graders or 9th graders take the WorkKeys assessment for those company job profiles. 5) Educators then help their students improve in the WorkKeys assessment area where they fall short.
Let me know if you think this is a good idea. Probably you can make it much better. One final note — a good friend of mine quietly let me know last week that even though our economy is improving, we still are at 10 percent unemployment. The country on the other hand is at about 5.5 percent unemployment. We should not be satisfied with double digit unemployment. We at the Stanislaus Business Alliance are not satisfied until every person in this county who wants a job will have a job. Even though the trend is positive, we have a long way to go. We are committed to doing our part. No Pollyannas here.