Skip to Content

Building a Future-Ready Education System

By Evan Schmidt

People in our region are eager to learn new job skills – how will our region create the right opportunities?

Valley Vision, partnered with the Institute for Social Research at Sacramento State, recently had a new poll in the field – this time on education and workforce. This demographically representative poll across the six county region (Sacramento, Yolo, El Dorado, Placer, Yuba, and Sutter) surveyed residents on the future of work, the future of education, perceptions of and experiences with current education and workforce systems, and priorities for investments. We found that 58% of respondents said that they are ready to learn new skills to remain employable in the future and 57% would like more education and training. How will we, as a region, engage residents who are eager to gain skills and training to prepare for a changing world?

According to a recent article from the Brookings Institution, “Free college won’t be enough to prepare Americans for the future of work,” we will need a multi-pronged approach to be able to meet the needs of our future workforce. Pathway programs, career technical education, workplace training and more will be needed in addition to four-year college to create equitable opportunity and support a talented workforce in a changing world.

What are some of the challenges within the educational system?

Four-year college doesn’t work for everyone. Tuition costs, the high opportunity cost of not working,  high housing costs, and other expenses make college a difficult proposition for many. Here in Sacramento, students are struggling to afford housing and dropping out or, in some cases, attending school while homeless according to an October 3rd Sacramento Bee article, “The new face of California’s housing crisis: College students forced to drop out.”

In a society that is focused on a four-year degree, a lack of a college degree, including those who start a degree but don’t finish, is a challenge for many. Uncompleted degrees contribute to social disparities, limited ability to access opportunity, and economic hardship.  In California, 60% of adults aged 25-64 do not have a college degree. Of these, 33% have college credits without a degree and about half of them are people of color. These incompletions have serious financial consequences – an average 45-year-old who has started but not completed college has lost up to $450,000 in wages. (Back to College, Part One: California’s Imperative to Re-Engage Adults)

What are some approaches that can help?

The pace of technology and the changing needs of industry will require adult re-skilling, flexible entry- and exit- points, and more agile education and workplace systems for learning. Not all skills can be taught in the classroom. Utilizing a blend of on-the-job training, certificate programs, apprenticeships, academic classroom time, and other models creates an effective ecosystem of educational systems ready to educate and train all.

Career Technical Education (CTE) and the blended pathway approach: regional educational systems in K-12, community college, and four-year college have created pathway systems that creates a flexible learning environment with entry and exit points throughout a connected system. Valley Vision is supported by the Los Rios Community College District to connect these programs to employers in the region to ensure that educational systems are aligned with the industry needs – including job skills and anticipating emerging trends. The CTE and blended pathway approach needs to be amplified by increasing awareness and communicating its value.

According to Project Attain!, 62,000 people in the Sacramento region are within 15 units of degree completion.

Helping people complete their degree at any level: Degree or educational program completion is a critical need. Degree completion is needed in various settings, including high school, community college, accreditation or certification, or four-year college. According to Project Attain!, a program dedicated to reaching 60% degree attainment by 2025 in the Sacramento region, 62,000 people in our region are within 15 units of degree completion. Helping create and communicate a flexible educational environment helps get people who have left back on track for degrees across a spectrum of educational programming. Adult learning and retraining needs to be a strong focus in our workforce education ecosystem.

Leaders both at the local and national level must acknowledge that the changing nature of work will necessitate a sophisticated vision for creating an equitable and flexible talent ecosystem that supports learning across a lifetime. This will require new thinking and system changes to become more adaptable and relevant to today’s workers. In our region, people are eager and ready to learn – let’s make sure we have systems and programs in place to provide that opportunity.

Stay tuned…Valley Vision will be releasing our first installment of the Education and Workforce poll early next year – learn more about what our region has to say about the future of work, the future of our education systems, and perceptions on our current education and talent systems.

Evan Schmidt is Valley Vision’s Senior Director working on the Public Opinion Surveying initiative and projects in the Healthy Communities and 21st Century Workforce impact areas.