In Challenging Times, MBEP’s Workforce Initiative Steps Up to Provide Career Development Options

Workforce development programs matter, and these days, they’re more crucial than ever.

High unemployment levels, a lack of trained, ready-to-work population, and a growing skills gap are just a few of the challenges that hinder economic development. And at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is creating unprecedented stresses on workers, businesses, schools and families, the need for workforce development programs that bridge the skills gap, continued training for essential workers, and partnerships that help students step into meaningful job training experiences has never been greater. 

COVID-19 is already creating high unemployment rates across the region. Across the state, every single county reported double-digit unemployment numbers and the Central Coast saw some of the highest unemployment numbers. April employment data for the Salinas and Santa Cruz-Watsonville metropolitan statistical areas (MSA) saw unemployment ranging from 17.4% to 20% in the tri-county region, with the highest loss of jobs in personal care/service and food preparation/serving occupations. Payroll decreases of 21-26% are projected, and job postings are significantly down from a year ago. 

A strong workforce is a vital part of a sustainable and prosperous economy, which is why there’s never been a greater need for the work we do. And a well-educated, healthy and diverse workforce is essential for improving economic efficiency and competing in a global marketplace, according to “The Business Case for Racial Equity,” a report prepared by the Altarum Institute and funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. “A more diverse workforce brings with it a better understanding of cultures and potential new markets around the world and a greater variety of perspectives, leading to more innovation in products and services. Research has shown that businesses with a more diverse workforce have more customers, higher revenues and profits, greater market share, less absenteeism and turnover, and a higher level of
commitment to their organization,” says the report.

On a regional level, to support the continued training and talent pipeline development, MBEP is promoting remote internships for college students and providing online training via webinars to support employers in implementing remote internships. To date, we have promoted remote internships in the following ways: feature enhancements to Monterey Bay Internships allowing employers to indicate remote internship work, email campaigns to employers and students providing information about remote internships, and revising our Employer Toolkit, providing comprehensive information to implement internship programs, including remote internships, and webinar slides and recording (Watch the webinar).

Malina Long has experienced the power of internships from both sides of the fence.

Now the associate executive director of Your Future Is Our Business (YFIOB), Long had applied to multiple jobs and internships through other avenues when she graduated from UCSC and says she was starting to lose hope. Through the Monterey Bay Internships portal, she found an internship opportunity at Your Future Is Your Business (YFIOB), a Santa Cruz County non-profit which links students to careers by providing work-based learning programs such as college and career expos, career panels, and more.

“Their team saw potential in me and gave me an opportunity to really apply myself,” she said. In her role as an administrative intern, she coordinated career expos, career panels and the annual Business/Education Luncheon and helped build relationships with potential partners for the organization. That led to a second internship, and greater responsibilities, as the organization’s executive director intern. 

Now she is YFIOB’s associate executive director, and mentoring a team of interns is part of her job. And her own experience starting out is a strong motivator.

“My goal is to always hold on to that feeling of when I was a teenager and I felt really helpless, to reach out to them,” she said. “What I see my biggest role is of being a little spark, to open up their view of the world, even just a crack.”

Internships do that, and more, giving students and grads an opportunity to dip into real-world career paths, develop marketable skills and gain valuable industry connections, while helping employers build a pipeline of trained employees.

As organizations continue to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic, YFIOB is also developing and revising its own plans for the months ahead. YFIOB recently secured grant funding to develop a new internship program with local schools.

Even prior to this, most of the internships at YFIOB were being done remotely, said Long, thanks to technology and flexibly structured internships that allowed students to have balance in their busy lives. To ensure that the transition to fully-virtual internships was effective as possible, Long was among those who signed up for MBEP’s free employer webinar on remote internships. “The comprehensive webinar lays a solid foundation for organizations that are considering having interns,” said Long. “The employer toolkit is also extremely useful and thorough.”

By removing barriers such as geography and transportation, remote work increases the number of internship opportunities students can explore and access. Removing commuting time enables students to work more hours, and remote work allows students more flexibility to work around their schedule. For small companies, many of which operate under physical office space constraints, remote internships are an excellent option for bringing on talent without having to designate space for them in the office, and it accommodates the current Shelter-in-Place ordinances.

In addition to Monterey Bay Internships, MBEP is providing free college and career readiness online resources for the entire community via Monterey Bay Career Connect. Since the wake of COVID-19, we’ve added additional information for virtual learning and educational equity on Educator Resources webpage, Job Seeker Resources, including live job postings on Monterey Bay Career Coach and OnwardCA.org as well as in-demand careers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Monterey Bay Career Connect video tutorials, accessible here! The videos demonstrate how to use the site to browse careers and find jobs on Indeed.com, search career pathways (e.g. Google IT Professional Support Certificate) find training opportunities to develop skills (e.g. Acute Care Nursing), and find local scholarships (e.g. Northern California Carpenters/Thomas A. Morton Memorial Scholarship), and apply for internships on Monterey Bay Internships. MBEP also has a LinkedIn Group allowing the community to connect and share relevant information about internships, jobs, careers, networking opportunities, and professional development.  

“The free online workforce development resources we provide the region are in alignment with our mission to improve the economic health and quality of life in the region while supporting triple-bottom line solutions within an equity, environmental, and economy-based framework,” says MBEP’s Workforce Development Program Manager, Hayley Mears. “MBEP’s goal is to foster a region where every young adult attains a college degree or credential, gains work-based learning experience, and successfully enters a career path earning a living wage with opportunities to upskill.” This sentiment was also expressed by Dr. Eduardo Ochoa, President at CSU Monterey Bay and MBEP Board Chair, in a recent letter to the community “MBEP is an organization that truly embraces equity as a part of its core values; creating more access to opportunity and education to help our lower-income communities so that all have a path to prosperity.”

Here’s what students who have used Monterey Bay Career Connect say about it: 

“I used the Resume Builder tool on Career Connect and I was able to create a resume for the first time ever and it was so helpful. It helped add skills that I did not know would be applicable since they come from being a student athlete.” – 11th-grade student at Seaside High School

“I had no idea what I wanted to be, but the assessment on Career Coach helped me explore careers I never would have discovered.” – 12th-grade student at UC Santa Cruz GearUP Program

“Monterey Bay Career Connect offers great advice on how to build a resume and is very user friendly. Giving data about income and job prospects helps in making decisions about future careers.” – 10th-grade student at Costanoa High School

For more information about MBEP’s Workforce Development Initiative, please contact Hayley Mears at hmears@mbep.biz.