This op-ed was originally published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, authored by Nikia Clarke, Cynthia Curiel, and Patricia Prado-Olmos.
As high school seniors throughout the country complete final exams and eagerly await college acceptance letters, only 37 percent of Hispanic and black students in San Diego will be college-ready when they finish high school. This lack of preparedness significantly affects San Diego’s competitiveness since these groups already represent a large (and growing) part of our population. And while talent attraction efforts are an important facet of economic growth, the nationwide competition for skilled talent combined with San Diego’s high cost of living make relocating talent from elsewhere increasingly difficult. Now more than ever, San Diego employers must focus on building a strong local talent pipeline, or we — as a region — simply won’t survive.
The success of San Diego’s innovation economy is inextricably linked to the region’s talent pool. In fact, projections indicate that San Diego will need to double its annual production of high-skilled college graduates by the year 2030 in order to meet the demands of the future economy, ultimately developing interventions that impact today’s seventh-graders. Though this can only happen through extensive systemic changes, we can rest assured knowing that we don’t have to look far to access a viable workforce. San Diego doesn’t have a talent supply problem; it has a talent development problem.
San Diego is home to a large pool of untapped talent that is vastly underrepresented in the innovation economy. Hispanics represent San Diego’s fastest growing population and will become the region’s largest demographic group by 2030; yet 85 percent of Hispanics in the region do not hold a bachelor’s degree. This presents an opportunity for employers to develop this local talent and create sustainable inflows of new employees directly from their surrounding communities.
To address these regional challenges, the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp. (EDC) launched an Inclusive Growth initiative this year, and convened an employer-led steering committee to help develop and drive an agenda that maximizes economic growth through inclusion. Informing this work, EDC recently released an interactive web study — talent.inclusivesd.org — indicating that talent shortages pose a significant threat to San Diego’s economic sustainability.
The 40-company steering committee is encouraging other employers to focus efforts on talent development programs that directly equip the local workforce with the skills they seek in employees. The committee has endorsed “20,000 skilled workers by 2030” as a regional goal, along with a set of employer-focused recommendations around transparency, engagement and investment. These recommendations serve to build a platform in which people can track the region’s progress, as well as provide employers with programs they can adopt and implement at their own organizations.
As a key leader in EDC’s Inclusive Growth Steering Committee, defense technology company Northrop Grumman plans to pilot a talent pipeline program in 2019 that will link STEM education opportunities from K-12 through college. The company is creating a new pathway for high school students to obtain STEM-focused degrees through close collaboration with local community colleges and practical on-the-job experience. By helping reduce the barriers many face when considering college, Northrop seeks to empower students and their families to pursue both educational and career opportunities, while creating a sustainable source of high-skilled talent.
Cal State San Marcos, another steering committee leader, has collaborated with Northrop Grumman to ensure that local education systems and curriculum are equipping students with the skills required to fill these higher-paying jobs. Cal State San Marcos works closely with a range of industries to design academic programs connected to workforce needs, such as a master’s of science in cybersecurity and the university’s newly launched engineering program.
Inclusive growth is not just about “doing the right thing” — it’s about economics, and making sure our community is set up for success. In 2019, EDC will continue to work with its steering committee to develop employer-focused recommendations around two other inclusive growth goals: equipping small businesses to compete and addressing the affordability crisis.
This process is complex and will take time; San Diego’s continued growth and success will largely depend on collaboration among companies, universities, philanthropic organizations and local government to ensure that inclusive growth practices are integrated into future decision-making. As a region, and especially as an economic development organization, if we are not doing this right, we should not be doing anything at all. Our hope is that when we tell San Diego’s story in the not-too-distant future, we can tell the story of a region that not only excels in technology and innovation, but also one that includes and uplifts all of its residents — a place where everyone can thrive, no matter your ZIP code.
Clarke is vice president of economic development at San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp. Curiel is vice president of communications at Northrop Grumman Corp., Aerospace Systems. Prado-Olmos is vice president of community engagement at Cal State San Marcos.
Follow along and learn more at InclusiveSD.org.