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Revolutionizing Stanislaus County’s Talent Development Pipeline

Stanislaus County grapples with a rocky talent landscape heading into 2024 and beyond 

Young graduates too often seek opportunities beyond county lines. According to the Stanislaus 2030 Market Assessment, which was compiled by researchers from the Brookings Institution, a disproportionate number of jobs in the local economy fall short of the pay and benefits required to position workers for long-term economic health. At the same time, local firms of all sizes struggle to attract candidates for key roles and must cast a wide net beyond the county’s borders. This troublesome trio of circumstances led Stanislaus 2030 to identify Talent Development as a high-leverage area critical to positioning the county for the next decade

Stanislaus 2030 recently began working to reshape the region’s talent pipeline in partnership with local communities, organizations, and businesses. The workstream addressing Talent Development intends to align the needs of regional companies with career opportunities as well as to better prepare talent to fill those roles.

Young workers and a supervisor review information along a production line

Eliminating Economic Growth Barriers

Stanislaus 2030’s early fact-finding efforts uncovered two important disconnects:

  1. between young graduates’ perceptions and the job market 

  2. between educational institutions and regional companies. 

These disconnects, combined with inefficiencies and redundancies within the existing workforce, represent significant barriers to developing an ideal talent market in the county– and result in slow economic growth.

“Local talent is our most valuable crop.” - Jody Hayes, Stanislaus County

As Jody Hayes, CEO of Stanislaus County, puts it, “local talent is our most valuable crop. A skilled workforce not only fuels our existing economy but has the potential to entice businesses to expand or relocate to our region, which sparks new growth and creates jobs.”

Fortunately, the ability to bring diverse stakeholders together to address these disparate challenges falls squarely within Stanislaus 2030’s charter.

Armed with these initial findings, Stanislaus 2030 organized a collaborative work group including representatives from government, education, and business. The group kicked off in November 2023 with the long-term goal of aligning workforce development systems with real-time industry needs. The outcomes of this process should foster a responsive, mutually beneficial relationship, particularly in regards to the robust manufacturing sector in the region. But this will be no quick fix or small feat.

“If it was easy, it would have happened already,” said Amanda Hughes, Executive Director of Stanislaus 2030. “It requires a lot of coordination and support. Rather than our education partners creating a program and hoping it gets filled, we’re trying to create a process where we know we have X number of jobs that are open right now and we know what we need to do differently to ensure that we can get those jobs filled.”

“If it was easy, it would have happened already. It requires a lot of coordination and support.” - Amanda Hughes, Stanislaus 2030

Data-Driven Talent Transformation

Part of this approach involves gathering and analyzing data from many sources and sectors to quantify the type and number of jobs needed, the skills and credentials required for these occupations, and the educational programming and outreach necessary to meet these needs.

However, this approach requires more than crunching numbers. Richard Coffey, a Workforce Planning and Development Consultant, pointed out: “Within the manufacturing industry, data tells a portion of the story, but what it doesn't really get into is a lot of nuances around evolving job rules, expectations around automation, new technologies, scenario planning, sourcing strategies, and other factors. There are lots of components that go beyond the data.”

These nuances don’t discourage Coffey, who draws on past corporate roles with large employers to inform his approach. 

“When I talk about manufacturing workforce planning, I like to talk about it in two ways. One is the hard data element, actual metrics around the workforce,” he noted. “But the bigger part of it is just like doing any form of strategic planning, whether it's around workforce planning, imagining where technology will be in 10 years, or for a major economic region, what kind of infrastructure we need to build out – like systems of transportation.”

Demystifying this part of the process has already helped clarify the focus of this collaborative process. Another key dimension is an emphasis on shared interest among companies that might otherwise view the talent landscape as a zero-sum environment. Additionally, firms often overestimate how unique their needs really are. 

“All companies have their own so-called secret sauce in respect to unique job requirements,” Coffey said. “But for the most part, there's a lot more commonality than uniqueness – because in the majority of instances the jobs fall within standard industry occupations. When we get together and talk about requirements, we realize that there's roughly 70% consistency across these different jobs and companies about what their needs are.”

This insight can streamline the collaborative process. “Once companies realize that the job needs are very similar, then it makes it easier for them to partner,” Coffey said. Fortunately, assembling this working group of diverse stakeholders has already clarified many of those shared needs. As Jeff Duarte, owner of Duarte Nursery, offered, "I put an emphasis on soft skills, followed closely by any sort of exposure to the Lean World, so that we don’t have to train in process improvement from ground zero. Ideally, our new hires will come in already understanding how to identify and eliminate waste."

Putting Perceptions in Sharper Focus

As representatives among the working group discussed needs and projections, another key aspect of building a resilient talent pipeline emerged: popular perception among the county’s youngest workers of career opportunities in the region.

“There’s a real misunderstanding about the existing work environment and career opportunities in our county,” Hughes noted. Young graduates perceive limited prospects within the region, unaware of the many career pathways within Stanislaus County. This gap too often contributes to emerging talent leaving for what they perceive to be greener pastures.

“I think it’s easy for students who are not college bound to feel lost after high school, mostly because they aren’t sure what to do next,” says Meredith Cramer, HR Manager at Pacific Southwest Container.

“A program like this one will shine the light on opportunities they have available to them, and I’m optimistic about helping high school students, and maybe even middle schoolers, learn about different career paths that don’t necessarily require a college degree."

In reality, the region offers a breadth of local career opportunities from entry-level work to more specialized and leadership positions.

Gary Beaudette, founder of workforce training and business consultancy Beaudette Consulting, teamed up with Coffey to facilitate the initial work group session, and highlighted young people’s surprisingly outdated perceptions of some of the county’s traditional sectors. 

“When students hear, ‘you're going to work in agriculture or food processing,’ they think they're going to be milking cows all day,” Beaudette said. “But in agriculture, they also need a lot of engineers and maintenance mechanics – and even agriculture companies have HR managers.” 

He envisioned several opportunities the initiative may be able to seize in order to update perceptions, including ways to bring emerging careers with a wow factor into classrooms. “There are kids who fly drones over acreage to take measurements, but I don't think it's getting in the classroom.”

Edgar Martinez, Director of Cellar Operations at Delicato, echoed that sentiment: “I’m hopeful that Stan County high schools do more to promote these options, while at the same time offering training that prepares students to enter the job market after high school. After all, not everyone will go to college or trade school."

Beyond the Horizon: Charting a Path to Talent Transformation

The challenges of fostering an adaptive and symbiotic ecosystem– one that serves educational institutions, workers, and local businesses– are significant.

As Matt Pedrick, of E.&J. Gallo Winery Senior Director, Learning and Talent Development adds, “the employees of the future will need to know more, do more, and understand more, so it is critical that we work closely with our education partners to level up training programs to address this emerging skills gap.”  

“The employees of the future will need to know more, do more, and understand more.” - Matt Pedrick, E.&J. Gallo Winery

Fortunately, these findings of the Strategic Working Group have already set in motion a number of initiatives aimed at building out this robust talent pipeline in the short-, near-, and long-term. The group is developing a Manufacturing Skills Competency Model, based on existing frameworks from the Department of Labor, that will establish common standards and language between industry, education, and workforce development, help identify skill gaps, and aid in building a competitive workforce in the region. This Competency Model will also streamline future efforts to develop targeted training programs to address evolving industry needs.

The Strategic Working Group is also building a Talent-to-Industry Exchange Model, an exciting process that gathers and uses real-time information to shape industry strategies for growing the local talent pipeline, aligning employer and educational interests in order to respond to the dynamic and evolving work environment.

Dr. Brian Sanders, President of Modesto Junior College, has also highlighted how educational institutions like his are working to facilitate this pipeline: “In support of our partnership with the

Stan2030 Initiative in Spring 2023, we expanded our faculty ranks in animal and plant science, veterinary technology, industrial automation, and core STEM and healthcare fields. We are currently engaged in college-wide conversations about our Educational Master Plan, focused on the programmatic needs of tomorrow.”

While immediate results matter, the foresight of Stanislaus 2030's initiative looks to nurture a robust talent pipeline that can meet both current and future workforce needs. Hughes noted the importance of communication, transparency, and visibility as the work progresses, and the work group facilitators share her optimism and passion for the direction of this evolving work. 

“If you think about each year being a cycle for workforce planning, it'll probably take three or four cycles until we have a so-called well-oiled machine. But that doesn't mean the first cycle is not going to be worth the effort,” said Coffey. “It’s just that the level of results, the richness of the information, is probably not going to be where it'll be two or three years out. We can't expect perfection. But none of the time is wasted.”

To keep up with the Talent Development initiative and other key priorities mapped out in the Investment Blueprint, subscribe to the newsletter here. Each issue will be time well spent on the future of Stanislaus County.


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