Thanks to a years-long collaborative effort from numerous county sectors, the Siskiyou Occupational Advancement Roadmap now exists to provide concrete steps for advancing local employment pathways and job opportunities, particularly through career and technical education.
Young people leaving Siskiyou County for greener pastures after they graduate high school has been a concern of countless county officials and residents for some time, and that concern has only grown as more and more local employees reach retirement age and leave the workforce. But thanks to a years-long collaborative effort from numerous county sectors, the Siskiyou Occupational Advancement Roadmap now exists to provide concrete steps for advancing local employment pathways and job opportunities, particularly through career and technical education.
Scott Valley Unified School District Superintendent Marie Caldwell, College of the Siskiyous Dean of Career and Technical Education Mark Klever, and Siskiyou County Superintendent of Schools Kermith Walters presented the Siskiyou Occupational Advancement Roadmap to the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors on Nov. 12 in the hopes that the board would pass a resolution designating SOAR as the official workforce development strategic plan for the county.
The board passed that resolution unanimously after hearing Caldwell, Klever and Walters explain how SOAR came to be and how its implementation will positively affect Siskiyou County’s workforce.
Caldwell explained that SOAR is the culmination of 15 years’ work, with an “intense push” over the past three. Many industry and education partners combined forces with nonprofit and county partners to develop the roadmap, she said.
We couldn’t keep tapping local industries to come to us, Caldwell told the board. Instead, the SOAR team had to ask local industry professionals what they needed from local education, which was essentially a reversal of the way things had been done in the past.
In order to understand what skills employers in the area are looking for and what industries local youth are looking to enter, the SOAR team surveyed hundreds of industry professionals, educators and students across the county. The data that survey yielded is very focused on Siskiyou County, Caldwell related. Workforce initiatives, documents and data are often regional documents, she said, and thus they don’t always connect with what Siskiyou County needs and what its economics look like. Because SOAR is completely Siskiyou-centric, it stands a much greater chance of proving effective at bolstering the county’s workforce and employment opportunities.
The collaborative nature of SOAR in and of itself also aims to solve a longtime roadblock. Walters noted that previously, many sectors of the county were engaged in the same work, trying to solve the same problems, but doing so “in silos,” rather than working toward those same goals together. Pooling efforts and resources from all those sectors has allowed strides to be made toward SOAR’s mission: “to co-create, with local employers and workforce and education experts, career and job-readiness strategies that effectively match opportunities with interested students and job-seekers.”
SOAR has been working with the Ford Family Foundation to reach some major milestones. The Ford Family Foundation’s community granting system funded SOAR for the past three years, thus allowing the team to create its roadmap document.
That document lays out specific steps, beginning in January 2020 and proceeding through December 2024, that are meant to help attain six overall goals:
3) Skill Development
5) Job Placement/Hiring
Caldwell told the board of supervisors on Nov. 12 that SOAR has asked the Ford Family Foundation to extend its grant. The outlook for Ford approving the grant extension is positive, she added.
Extension of the grant would allow SOAR to move forward collaboratively with the strong workforce program, which specifically funds career and technical education in California. Siskiyou County educators are going to apply as a consortium to match the Ford Foundation dollars that will be hopefully be coming to them, Caldwell detailed, with the goal of making SOAR self-funding in three years.
Each of the supervisors expressed their full support for the roadmap. District 2 Supervisor Ed Valenzuela posited that despite many young people leaving Siskiyou County after high school, there are many career opportunities available locally. “I would hope that we accentuate the positives,” he told the SOAR representatives, stating that open positions with the county “run the gamut, from entry level to the top spots.” Valenzuela also mentioned that one of his goals as supervisor is to see the county implement internship programs for high school students.
Walters and Caldwell were happy to note that such a program is currently in the works, and that Mount Shasta High School and Etna High School have “already started down that path.” SOAR is working to get students into internship programs in the summer of 2020, Caldwell said.
Many local industry, state and city venues have agreed to accept a consistent school to work program, she said. The goal of such a program is to see every junior and senior high school student working in an internship capacity, Caldwell told Valenzuela. She assured him, “We’re committed to your same goal.”
District 4 Supervisor Lisa Nixon and District 3 Supervisor Michael Kobseff both stated that the largest impediment to an outside industry coming into Siskiyou County is the area’s lack of an adequately developed workforce .
Walters explained that SOAR is focused on programs that allow students to enter their chosen field quickly. For some students, college may mean an eight month certificate program, he said, or the fire academy or law enforcement academy.
District 5 Supervisor Ray Haupt expressed his support for career and technical education, sharing, “This is a program that pays off and brings kids back [to Siskiyou County.] Beyond industry, this program connects an individual kid’s passion to something they know locally. Once that connection is made, they just take off.”
The county has had many great career pathways for years, Caldwell said, but “nobody knew about them.” SOAR is aiming to “take down the walls on the silos” that previously kept the county sectors’ work toward a common goal separate. Implementing the roadmap will “make things transparent so industry partners know the skills high school graduates will have, so they know that kid can come to them and be successful,” she described. In turn, Siskiyou County’s students will know the myriad opportunities that are “right here” and available to them.