Becoming Involved in Career-Related Public Policy Planning

by Sally Gelardin

As the largest and most diverse state in the country, California's occupational challenges are intensified by the size and scope of its workforce. Workforce challenges shared by other states include the following: lack of funds, aging workers, outsourcing, changing demographics, and downsizing. Challenges call for solutions. The California Workforce Investment Board was selected to take on this task. The Board approved a two-year strategic plan on May 12, 2005. In this article, I shall address each priority individually, and then summarize points from a broader perspective, including how career professionals can participate in implementing the Board's plan. This paper is meant to stimulate discussion on emerging workforce trends that can influence state board priorities and lead to actions that utilize limited resources to provide the most benefit for the most people.

The California Workforce Investment Board set the following four priorities for July 1, 2005 - June 30, 2007:

  1. Understanding and Meeting the Workforce Needs of Business and Industry in Order to Prepare Workers for 21st Century Jobs
  2. Targeting Limited Resources to Areas Where They Can Have the Greatest Economic Impact
  3. Collaborating to Improve California's Educational System at All Levels
  4. Ensuring the Accountability of Public and Private Workforce Investments

Understanding and Meeting the Workforce Needs of Business and Industry in Order to Prepare Workers for 21st Century Jobs
Jobs are being outsourced to workers in other countries who can do the job less expensively than American workers and to computers that can do the job more efficiently than human beings. Computers are used not only for repetitive tasks, but even for problem-solving activities. This phenomenon affects skilled, as well as unskilled workers.

What could California's businesses and industries do? Corporations can benefit by enlisting the support of "knowledge workers with heart;" in other words, adaptable problem-solvers who are concerned about the well-being of their co-workers, their community and the global community, who are focused on designing services and products that improve quality of life for co-workers, clients and prospective clients.
Workers in all states and at all skill levels can learn to solve problems, adapt to change, communicate with others, and develop values that serve the greater good and that will benefit future generations. Training in these skills, via career counseling, education, or other resources, should go hand-in-hand with hard skills development because industries that currently need workers may eventually discover technological substitutes for human labor that can do the job more efficiently and effectively. For example, nurses are currently in demand, but one-day robots may administer medications, and operations are already being performed with remote assistance.

As we observe young people walking around with hand-held audio and video technology devices, we can learn how to use these technological advances, ourselves, and develop activities through these media that can meet the occupational and career needs of our clients.

Targeting Limited Resources to Areas Where They Can Have the Greatest Economic Impact
Potentially, one of the greatest areas to target is educational institutions. Industry needs are changing so rapidly that educational institutions need to teach students of all levels how to learn, how to make changes, and how to solve problems; and at the same time learn how to master specific occupational skills needed by society. Learning modalities that encourage meaningful elements, such as electronic portfolios, digital story-telling, pod-casting, web-casting, and electronic forums, can help learners make sense out of their lives, as well as provide them with work skills needed by business and industry.

Educational institutions need to partner with innovative resources in the community and global community to provide skills that they cannot develop on their own. For example, there are mobile career vans that go from one higher educational institution to another, offering career and life skills. Apprenticeships, internships, student exchange programs, and mentoring opportunities can enhance learning and open students' perspectives on the world of work.

Another area to target the resources is small businesses. To help small business owners succeed, the needs of small business owners must be identified and addressed. They can learn how to develop a business strategy and how to relate their business vision, mission and goals to their personal vision so that their work and home life are in harmony.

Collaborating to Improve California's Educational System at All Levels
Those with barriers to employment may need extra support. Physical barriers may be personal (e.g. paralysis) or environmental (e.g. limited transportation options). With the support of learning technologies, such as distance courses and tele- and web-seminars, career advisors can be distance, as well as face-to-face educators. Many career development skills can be taught with the assistance of technology tools, thereby freeing up practitioners to offer targeted assistance to clients who need extra help to overcome specific employment barriers. For example, assessment instruments (interests, skills, needs, values, personality traits) are increasingly available over the Internet for workers in transition. Distance and blended learning communities can support job seekers and career changers. National career guidelines and a wealth of supportive material can assist individuals of all ages in career development.

Career practitioners can serve as resource people to put the public in touch with resources, and then intervene, as necessary, to help individuals relate their assessment results and newly acquired career information to appropriate occupations and career directions. Adolescents and young adults need adventure. Community work programs could be required that provide valuable work experience, as well as serving as outlets for energy and exploration. Since many individuals choose to continue learning throughout their lives, intergenerational, reciprocal learning can be implemented. For example, young people can guide older people in the use of computers, and older people can guide youth in other life skills.

Ensuring Accountability
The key goal of the Special Committee on Accountability in Workforce Investments is to expand services through partnerships at state and local levels. In addition, to ensure needs of constituents are met, partnerships with agencies and departments, boards, educational institutions, and business and industry can be developed throughout the country, and even internationally, not just at state and local levels.

The major themes identified by the Committee include the following:

  • Improving state and local coordination between partner agencies and program.
  • Identifying and achieving administrative efficiencies and better service integration in California's workforce system.
  • Optimizing training and the availability of training funds.
  • Optimizing state and local-level capacity building and technical assistance.
  • Identifying and requesting WIA waivers.
  • Maximizing the effectiveness and efficiency of the workforce investment system.

Distance communication can streamline operations and support all the above goals. Electronic forums, tele-seminars, and webinars can serve as discussion and learning platforms on all aspects of career development. Professional development is becoming more and more easily available through distance modalities, such as forums and other online discussion groups, that save time, expense, and remove transportation barriers.

Workforce boards across the nation are observing closely solutions presented by the California Workforce Board. The California State Board can work with other state boards and related entities, such as state and national career development associations, to build on promising practices and develop new solutions to occupational problems.

We can increase administrative efficiency of workforce personnel by motivating and training them to administer new technologies, such as job search and employability courses for clients, and by offering them continuing educational opportunities, such as the Career Development Facilitator training.

We can start by identifying our primary motivations (i.e., save the environment for future generations, insure our children have an opportunity to earn a college education, find lucrative and satisfying work to insure that we can be self-supporting in our old age, integrate work and personal life). When our intentions are clear, we can make decisions and work with others to solve workforce problems more efficiently and effectively.

Sally Gelardin, Ed.D., International and Multicultural Education, is a career educator and counselor. She teaches the Global Career Development Facilitator (GCDF) curriculum and designed the first online CEU course approved by the Center for Credentialing and Education (CCE, an affiliate of the National Board for Certified Counselors). She is creator of The Job Juggler's unique web-based job search and employability course for career practitioners http://www.jobjuggler.net/workforce/1jumpstart.html and for workers in transition from high school on up http://www.jobjuggler.net . Dr. Gelardin serves as Professional Development Chair of the National Career Development Association, and is Past-President of the California Career Development Association. In 2004, Dr. Gelardin earned a Merit Award for Outstanding Service by NCDA. Contact: 415.461.4097 or email: sal@jobjuggler.net .

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