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A Crash Course in Community-Building

I moved to Sacramento in 2012 with every intention of building a career for myself that focused on helping people. As a Filipina-American I initially thought that my service would be through nursing, but my love of science couldn’t change my disposition in hospitals. I had a limited perspective of what service for my community meant, but Sacramento State taught me the importance of mentorship; Food Literacy Center exposed me to community development and Sacramento’s strong nonprofit system; and Valley Vision gave me the background and foresight to envision a better community across all systems.

Valley Vision has broadened my perspective and taught me that helping people takes more than single-handed transactional services. It requires collaboration, patience, and trust – all easily stated, but not so easily achieved. Yet this small, but mighty team takes on that task wholeheartedly! Valley Vision brings together workforce, education, employers and partners to align workforce initiatives; guide digital inclusion and broadband initiatives to connect our communities; and lift the voices of people throughout our region by advancing public opinion polling data. My experience at Valley Vision was a crash course in the expansive and unique systems that make up our community, exposing me to incredible organizations and populations that make Sacramento home to so many. Content expertise alone though is not enough to ensure collaboration or trust among these entities. In turn, Valley Vision is filled with devoted, adaptive, and compassionate individuals. 

I am forever grateful to have learned from and worked alongside this team. It has been an honor working on our workforce and broadband initiatives and my experience at Valley Vision has helped guide my path towards education. I am looking forward to advocating for digital inclusion in a new capacity as a teaching assistant, and later teacher, integrating what I have learned from Valley Vision’s future of work and regional digital skills initiatives into the classroom. 

Yzabelle Dela Cruz was a Valley Vision Project Associate supporting the 21st Century Workforce, Innovation & Infrastructure, and Food & Agriculture impact areas.

Building a Future-Ready Education System

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.

Introducing Monthly Reports from Our Research Unit

Valley Vision has always been known as a research provider as well as a catalyst for and driver of action for the region. In the last couple years, we have been adding capacity to our research capabilities.

One of the main ways is through our public opinion polling. Since 2017, in partnership with Sac State’s Institute for Social Research, we’ve released three polls: civic amenities, transportation, and our benchmark livability poll. These polls have enabled us to access direct information from regional residents about their priorities, values, and experiences on pressing topics within the region.

Valley Vision’s public opinion surveys are driving action across the region.

We’ve used these data to help inform regional decision-making – like advancing transportation investment priorities at a time when the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG) is planning for the next 25 years through the Metropolitan Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy planning process, or highlighting the divisions across the region when it comes to having a vision on how we should grow and house our residents. Using polling data to guide conversations and inform policy-making and investments is a core element of Valley Vision’s value proposition to the region – we unite the region by using research and action to deliver on triple bottom line values like environmental sustainability, economic prosperity, and social equity.

That is why we are excited about our next poll, due for public release on May 16th on the environment. How important are environmental values to regional residents? Do residents support an increased role for government in protecting the environment? Do residents believe the effects of climate change are already happening? Find out by tuning in to our next poll. In addition to the data itself, we are excited about the communications campaign, created by 3fold Communications, who also created our Livability Poll campaign. These communications campaigns help get the word out about the data and ensure that community groups, decision-makers, and community members learn about the insights that are being uncovered.

Our Environmental Poll findings will be released on Thursday, May 16.

Public opinion polling isn’t the only research coming out of our Research Unit. For Valley Vision, supporting a talented workforce for the region is mission critical. To achieve this, we are advancing the Capital Region Workforce Action Plan – through which we conduct continuous research on the changing economy and the region’s high growth economic sectors, like construction or manufacturing. Working with the California Community Colleges Center of Excellence, we use research to identify where there are gaps between the skills that businesses need and the skills that workers can access in educational or workforce training. We are on the verge of releasing a new report on the Hospitality and Tourism sector. In addition to the research itself, we bring together business, education, workforce, and community partners to interpret the data, compare it to on-the-ground experiences, and identify key actions to meet the needs of the sector. Our Hospitality and Tourism Cluster meeting is coming up on April 26th at Raley Field to present the data and explore next actions. We are excited about sharing critical data on this sector and exploring with the community how we can create the talent that we need to support a thriving hospitality and tourism sector in this region. I hope you can join us!

Highlighting our research is an important way to stay on top of the pulse of the region. As the Director of Research at Valley Vision, I’m excited to start regular monthly blog reports from our Research Unit. I’ll highlight research that is coming out and dive into ours and others’ research every month to make those critical connections between data and action. Coming up next: I can’t wait to share the environmental poll data with you next month – stay tuned!

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 strategy areas.

Bill Mueller Honored with Distinguished Service Award

On September 27th, Valley Vision CEO Bill Mueller accepted the Distinguished Service Award from Sacramento State. Distinguished Service Awards are given in recognition of professional achievements and community service. Honorees have achieved prominence in their chosen field and brought distinction to the University and/or their community through their accomplishments. Below you will find a transcript of his acceptance speech.

Thank you, Sac State Alumni Association and President Nelsen for this recognition. I also want to thank my dear friend and colleague Christine Ault for submitting my nomination.

My family is here. My sons’ Daniel and Brian, and my sisters’ Debbie, Susie and her husband Gary, and my kid sister Nancy.  My dear friend Fredrica is also here. My oldest son Nick is a priest in Boston and he and his wife Deena could not be here, but they are here in spirit. Thank you, all. You honor me by being here.

This award hits home. Not because of how it feels in this moment, but because this recognition is shared with friends, my family and my parents.

My parents are both gone now. My Dad died 16 years ago almost to the day. My Mom died of cancer in January. Her birthday was last Friday. I can still hear her, and feel her.

She and my dad were big believers in education. They knew it opened doors. To good jobs. To a better life. They encouraged it in their kids.

But my Mom in particular was always reading and always asking questions.  Education for her was not limited to the classroom. It was a lifelong commitment. She wanted to know. And both my mom and dad taught us kids, not just about the world, but how to be.

As children we were taught never to hate. We may dislike something or somebody, but never, ever hate. That it is not our differences that divide us, but instead the judgments we make about others that do. That 95% of all disagreements sprang from nothing more than missed expectations, poorly communicated, calling us to communicate better.

Our times tell us different. Our times say we should retreat to our tribes and keep to ourselves. That we should not engage people whose views and ideas don’t match our own — not because they are simply different than our view — but because we judge them to be wrong.

I can’t help but wonder what my mom and other moms would say about this. I think she’d  encourage us to grow up, not in a mean spirited way, but in a way that lets us know we aren’t living up to our best selves. She would encourage us to be less fearful and more hopeful. More faithful in things bigger than ourselves. To reach out, especially when it is hardest. To have heart that our better days are ahead, as they always have been. That education is our key, because it democratizes hope. This is what I hear from my mom every day.

I want to thank Sac State, and for my teachers like Joe Serna, who was teacher first and Sacramento Mayor second, for being that place of formation and inspiration for me, and for thousands more. You got us ready for this world, as our parents have, to serve in a way that unites us, and brings out our best selves.

Bill Mueller is Chief Executive of Valley Vision.