According to RealtyTrac, San Luis Obispo County ranks 6th in the nation for housing costs (Holden & Bizjak, 2018). However, this situation is somewhat exaggerated because the county’s average wage is below state averages (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018). These factors make recruiting employees to the county difficult, necessitating a “grow your own” approach. A question facing local leaders is how to grow the economy and wages to match the high cost of living in San Luis Obispo County. One successful response is SLO Partner’s educational programs that train local citizens in skilled jobs presenting high wage potential in the local market. SLO Partners is an initiative of the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education. 

Local leaders face the challenge of growing a skilled workforce to meet the demand of local technology, software, and manufacturing businesses and industries. One identified and proven strategy to address this regional challenge is to upskill and train the workforce for head of household jobs in technology-related fields right here in our county. Over the past three years, 47 local employers have requested the San Luis Obispo Career & Technical Education (CTE) Foundation and SLO Partners increase the pipeline of qualified workers with Information Technology (IT) and Precision Manufacturing related skills. 

Employers understand the importance of diversity in their workforce and consistently request qualified female candidates because of previous female apprentices’ high degree of success. Employers are asking us to grow the pool of female applicants and support their entry into these head of household careers. SLO Partners apprenticeships provide an alternative path to connecting qualified talent from diverse backgrounds and teams with employers looking to hire hard-to-fill occupations. Local employers recognize that gender diversity on teams creates a well-rounded team better able to collaborate and problem-solve. 

One local success is Marlena, who secured a spot in the program and, after graduating, received three job offers. “The SLO Partners team helped me communicate how to let companies know I was interviewing elsewhere,” she said. “I wouldn’t have known how to do that otherwise – it was an interesting experience saying ‘no’ to really good jobs. I accepted a position at Trust Automation because I liked the culture and diversity. Marlena’s job prospects before completing the program were very different. “All of the positions I was qualified for either weren’t hiring, weren’t willing to pay more than the minimum wage, or had no career path. Trust Automation has a career path for me. There is the opportunity for advancement in my current position as well as various technical certifications.”

CTE, pre-apprenticeships, and apprenticeships have become vital components in our local workforce and economic recovery.  Local Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham and State Senator John Laird are positive voices for CTE, Strong Workforce, and recovery grants as we leverage the potential of these programs to address our workforce challenges. In addition, our local school districts, Cuesta College, local trade unions, and local businesses are all innovating to thrive in the post-COVID-19 economy. Creating future careers that are locally grown is a hallmark of our SLO Partners program.

Another recent SLO Partner graduate, Stephanie, believes one of the challenges many women in the tech industry face is imposter syndrome. 

“Imposter syndrome is very real for all Software Developers, but I think it can be particularly challenging for women. When you feel like a minority, feelings of insecurity are amplified. There are many talented people in this field with so much knowledge achieving great things, so gaining confidence in yourself can be tough. It’s really important that we learn to push past those feelings of inadequacies, so we can be role models for other women – we need women in leadership roles to look up to. It’s certainly made me feel more comfortable and confident.” Stephanie also recommends networking and getting involved with women in tech groups. “I’ve met so many women in the industry because of these opportunities. We get together, we motivate each other, and we build each other up. More women need to know there’s a much-needed place for them in the tech industry.” 

SLO Partners is dedicated to promoting employment upskilling and opportunities for the local community. 

Highlighted in two recent workforce studies, Early Childhood Education (ECE) is also an essential component of our economic recovery. 

The San Luis Obispo County Office of Education’s SLO Partners program, Cuesta College, First 5 SLO County, Trust Automation, CAPSLO, Paso Robles Bearkittens, the SLO County Child Care Planning Council, and several other organizations have joined forces in leveraging our ECE apprenticeship program, impact funds, pending state grants, and shared programming. Our goals include creating local multi-agency programs that serve the community, meet the changing needs of childcare, and have sustainability that benefits our entire community. 

Together we will continue to adapt, innovate, and thrive. It is an honor to serve as your county superintendent of schools.