By Derrick Seaver, VP of Public Policy
Advocacy organizations of all stripes in Silicon Valley can agree that income inequality, defined as the unequal distribution of income throughout a given population, is a legitimate economic development concern throughout the United States in general, and the Bay Area specifically. As our national economy continues its transition from heavy manufacturing to a knowledge-based, technologically driven workforce, making sure that everyone benefits is a challenge that must be addressed.
The San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce strongly believes that the best policy prescription for managing income inequality is helping to create a pathway to a well-paying, sustainable job for each resident of our area.
In this new economy, what are these jobs going to look like?
Recent investments have led to a greater number of highly-skilled employees coming from inside the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. A recent study from UCLA demonstrates that the time, talent and treasure devoted by so many towards this end is paying dividends, with STEM-related fields experiencing a 28% increase in post-secondary student enrollment since 2008. These efforts, and the results, should be applauded.
However, this significant investment has diverted resources and attention away from other areas of employment, in which many employers are now experiencing a significant need.
In a recent survey of the SJSV Chamber’s nearly 1,500 members, three employment needs stood out:
Soft Skills. 49% of respondents indicated that employees lack the necessary “soft skills” for the workforce — punctuality; interview skills; proper attire; interpersonal skills; and so on
Specific Job Skills. 47% of respondents indicated that employees lack “specific job skills” for their given fields
Certification/Licenses. 45% of respondents lack appropriate certification and/or licensure for the job need
While federal and state attention has remained directed at STEM-related fields, basic capabilities such as soft skills have become overlooked and, as a result, pathways to middle-skill jobs have been constricted. Middle-skill jobs — those that require greater than a high-school diploma but less than a four-year traditional degree — provide a pathway to a well-paying, sustainable career track.
In 2008, the Urban Institute detailed that despite press reports, nearly half of all jobs are comprised of this middle-skilled category, and yet they receive the least amount of attention as the public continues to focus on an “hourglass” employment services model that works for the top and bottom of the spectrum. Contrary to popular belief, the report continues, “demand for such jobs will remain quite robust … thus, education and training programs that help less-educated workers gain these skills remain a worthwhile investment.”
This is increasingly so in Silicon Valley, where the creation of more and more high-skilled positions often requires the additional creation of more than one middle-skilled position.
How can the Chamber serve as a resource to close this gap?
Recently, the SJSV Chamber detailed plans to launch Strive San Jose, a career pathways collective impact program targeted directly at middle-skills employment. By linking public, non-profit and private-sector leaders together, the Chamber is uniquely situated to accomplish three goals for the city of San Jose — Silicon Valley’s most populous urban center:
1. Connect interested youth with strong employers to enhance exposure to these professions, through career days, job shadows, internships/externships, and soft skill workshops.
3. Champion legislative and policy change to more succinctly match certification and licensure at the community college level with real job needs, and further align California pre-K-12 curriculum with robust career pathways — not just STEM.
A recent Manhattan Institute Report, which dispelled the widely held belief that large urban areas such as San Jose were struggling with a “brain drain,” advised thought leaders to look broader with their outreach:
“Rebuilding core public services that confer broad benefits to the whole community, not just to the most educated, should be the main policy focus,” it read.
Strive San Jose, in partnership with and on behalf of our broad-based membership, will aim to take this type of collective approach to career pathways advocacy. In doing so, the Chamber believes that we can close the income inequality gap by helping to open a path to a well-paying, sustainable job for all of San Jose’s more than 235,000 youth.