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Goal: Educate &Support Workforce

Strategic Plan

Workforce Speedometer

About 67% of Strategic Sonoma Education and Workforce Goals are completed or ongoing.

Measures of Success

  • Education Attainment Disparities Student Testing
  • High School Graduation
  • Post-Secondary Enrollment
  • Post-Secondary Awards
  • Students Qualifying for Free Lunch Labor Force Participation

Collective Impact Partners

  • Sonoma County Workforce Investment Board
  • Sonoma County EDB
  • Sonoma County Office of Education K-12 Schools
  • Santa Rosa Junior College
  • Sonoma State University
  • Empire College
  • Sonoma Corps
  • Sonoma County CTE Foundation North Coast Builders Exchange Private Employers
  • North Bay Leadership Council
  • North Bay Business Sector Alliance Northern California Career Pathways Alliance

Objective: Sonoma County residents have the skills and support they need to find gainful employment across local business clusters.

Education  Finding skilled talent is one of the greatest challenges facing employers in Sonoma County and across the United States. In recent years, Sonoma County’s active labor force under 65 years old shrank, making it harder for businesses to find employees. At the same time, employment in the modern economy increasingly requires some form of post-secondary education – whether a certificate, associate degree, bachelor’s degree, or professional degree. Currently, many students and adults in Sonoma County lack the skills and accreditation required by local employers. This limits their prospects of finding well-paying career opportunities that allow them to afford living and raising families locally. The education disparities are especially glaring for Sonoma County’s Latino residents who make up 26% of the total population and nearly 50% of the children in local schools. 

Improving education outcomes for students and re-training adults will be critical to ensure that residents are able to find gainful employment and that employers are able to find workers in the future. If these needs are not addressed, many employers will face even greater challenges maintaining operations. This threat impacts all organizations, including fundamental services like hospitals and schools in addition to manufacturers, agricultural operations, and professional businesses. Until a significant amount of new housing is constructed, attracting new workers to Sonoma County is not an option. Instead, efforts must focus on retraining adult workers, educating students, and providing families with support that allows disengaged residents to reenter the active labor force. In general, Strategic Sonoma partners must also continue supporting and expanding inclusive, county-wide programs focused on STEM, Career and Technical Education, and soft skills development.


  • Establish a Talent Alignment Council that brings together private employers, government bodies, Santa Rosa Junior College, Sonoma State University, and other key organizations to discuss employer workforce needs and better align training programs to match those needs. The Talent Alignment Council would be organized and staffed by the Sonoma County Workforce Investment Board (WIB) and EDB and should meet on a regular basis to check in on training needs and track the success of programs.
  • Create a Sonoma County Cooperative Education Program. This co-op program should bring together local high schools, Santa Rosa Junior College, Sonoma State University, Sonoma Corps in partnership with local employers to develop a pipeline of skilled graduates into local firms. Cooperative education programs combine classroom-based learning with practical, structured work experience. Students often alternate between a school term and a term spent working. Students are generally paid while working. At the same time, local employers should work with high schools, Santa Rosa Junior College, and Sonoma State University to expand apprenticeship and internship programs to give students practical experience and raise awareness of local career opportunities.
  • The destruction of the October wildfires acerbated an existing shortage of construction workers, and Sonoma County partners must continue to collaborate and leverage resources to meet the need for workers, support rebuilding efforts, and prepare student and adult residents for rewarding local careers in construction and the trades. Santa Rosa Junior College offers relevant certificate training programs for adults. The WIB received a grant from the California Employment Development Department to help train residents for in-demand construction jobs after the October wildfires. And before the fires, the North Bay Construction Corps (NBCC) was established through a partnership of the North Coast Builders Exchange, CTE Foundation of Sonoma County, Sonoma County Office of Education. The NBCC is a five-month after school training program for high school seniors interested in construction and the trades. These education partners should consider establishing a formal construction skills training center to support their programming.
  • The WIB recently convened industry sector partnerships in Manufacturing and Health Care. These partnerships should be refined and additional partnerships created around each of the Sonoma County target clusters. These should be coordinated with the North Bay Business Sector Alliance’s efforts to use the SlingShot grant to create more partnerships. These partnerships allow local employers to utilize support services offered by the WIB, EDB, educational institutions, and other non-profits – including talent retention programs, customized employee training, and specialized hiring events. These partnerships can be utilized to strengthen career pathways, better tailor training programs, and provide additional marketing to students regarding high-demand occupations. These efforts will raise awareness of rewarding career pathways made available by certificate programs in addition to two- and four-year degrees. Utilizing sector partnerships, the WIB should conduct a talent alignment analysis study and develop career maps to more easily assist students and their families understand pathways.
  • The WIB should continue to expand its Dislocated and Incumbent Worker Training programs. These program leaders should regularly meet with target cluster partnerships to identify specific training needs for existing workers. Monthly job fairs continue to offer opportunities to connect with individuals looking for new opportunities. By increasing marketing for these job fairs, the WIB may be able to reach more dislocated individuals and others no longer actively participating in the labor force. The WIB, EDB, and sector partnerships could consider developing an active outreach program focused on inclusion – upskilling adults to expand their career opportunities and bringing others back into the workforce. The local chambers, Cities, and minority-serving non-profits can provide access and credibility within underserved populations. Many small business lack the time, resources, and knowledge to provide training themselves. Whenever possible, the WIB should work with employers to develop their own internal training capacity and programs.
  • Tuition costs continue to rise, but they are only one barrier to individuals receiving necessary education. The costs of transportation, childcare, tools, books, and housing all make it difficult for many individuals to attend school. Community Foundation Sonoma County, 10,000 Degrees Sonoma County, Career Technical Education Scholarship Fund, the Rotary Club of the Valley of the Moon, and many other philanthropic individuals and organizations currently offer scholarships to help Sonoma County students afford tuition. These scholarships offer vital relief for low-income and middle-class students. Where possible, scholarship programs should be expanded and new offerings created to provide a range of support and funding – not only for tuition. For example, through the American’s Job Center of California (AJCC), the WIB offers a variety of services and funding. Additional state, federal, and private philanthropic programs may be leveraged to expand local resources to support students. Recognizing the importance of education, a number of communities across the country have even committed to paying community college tuition for any residents who meet specific criteria.
  • Sonoma County has an active retiree population – many of whom have experience as executives, innovators, educators, and more. These retirees are a significant asset to the county. Volunteers could be better utilized as mentors, educators, childcare providers, and career coaches through a new program focused on engaging them and connecting those in need with their services. Think of it like a for retirees, for example, but with mentoring, coaching, and other services.

Best Practice – Education

Job Opportunity Investment Network (Join), Philadelphia – Sector Partnerships & Training

Job Opportunity Investment Network,JOIN, which stands for Job Opportunity Investment Network, is a Philadelphia-based public-private partnership whose goal is to increase the number of Philadelphians earning family-sustaining wages by investing in industry-supported partnerships that train low-wage workers for high-demand, mid-skilled positions.

JOIN does not connect Philadelphia residents to jobs, but rather invests in workforce partnerships, career pathways, and skills training that will provide residents the training they need to secure employment. JOIN’s investment is split into three categories – workforce partnerships (70% of investment), evaluation (10%), and tools & collaboration management (20%). This means that JOIN not only helps creates workforce training programs but also evaluates their effectiveness. 

JOIN brings in community partners and best practices to ensure they are continuously improving their programs. Besides job training, JOIN has created a program to establish themselves as thought leaders on sector partnerships in Philadelphia through a program called JOIN(T) Action, which is a collaborative network of over 100 community leaders who create and implement best practices for workforce development.

JoinJOIN has been successful for partners, job-seekers, and the community. JOIN has helped over 100 Philadelphia-based employers hire or train workers and has created or improved 13 workforce sector partnerships. JOIN has taught nearly 4,300 low-skilled adults and helped 1,350 low-skilled adults gain degrees or industry-recognized credentials for a Philadelphia target industry. Overall, JOIN has facilitated a 717% return on investment for the community

Northeastern University, MA – Cooperative Education Programs

Northeastern UniversityAs many colleges and universities across the United States explore new ways to connect students with real world experience and better support local employers, Northeastern University in Boston has done exactly that for over one hundred years through its Department of Cooperative Education & Career Development. Through Northeastern’s Cooperative Education (Co-op) program, students alternate between classroom studies and full-time work in career-related jobs for six months.

While receiving practical experience and skills, students are also paid by their employers, which allows them to offset their education costs. Employers in turn are able to evaluate potential future employees while getting necessary work done. The system has been tremendously successful in preparing students for careers and finding gainful employment upon graduation while also providing employers with a cost-effective way to find, train, and hire quality new employees.

Why Hire StudentsBefore they graduate, approximately 94% of Northeastern students complete at least one six-month co-op assignment. As they continue to learn and explore careers, many students will complete two or three co-ops while attending Northeastern. Students are currently in companies spread across 136 countries. According to the university, upon graduation over 50% of students get job offers from an employer where they spent a six-month co-op and 89% had full-time employment in their desired field within 9 months of graduation.

he success has been noted, and Northeastern continues to receive high rankings for the services it provides to students and employers, and applications for limited freshman spots become more and more competitive.

The Tennessee Promise – Free Community College for Adults

Tennessee Promise logoIn May 2017, lawmakers in Tennessee approved legislation that would make community college free for all adults starting in the fall semester of 2018. This was an expansion of a preexisting program, the Tennessee Promise, that made tuition and fees free for recent high school graduates pursuing a degree at a Tennessee community college.

Now the Tennessee Promise is also open to all adults without a degree or GED. Students in the Tennessee Promise program must have been a state resident for one year before applying, keep at least a 2.0 GPA, apply for the FAFSA, and enroll in enough classes to be considered a part-time student in order to remain eligible for the program. Community college students in the program will save around $3,700 each year, and even if they already receive financial assistance, the Tennessee Promise program will cover the rest of their costs.

Tennessee PromiseExpansion of the program was proposed by Governor Bill Haslam and was a major part of his initiative to increase the number of Tennessee residents with college educations to 55% by 2025. When the expansion was announced in 2017, fewer than 39% of Tennessee residents had a college degree.

The Tennessee Promise program will cost around $10 million each year – funded by money from the state’s lottery. In the first two years of the program, more than 33,000 students benefited, and Tennessee saw its enrollment rate of first time freshmen rise by 30%.

ince implementing free community college for adults in Tennessee, other communities have followed suit. Oregon, San Francisco, New York, and Amarillo, TX have implemented some form of free or reduced cost community college.