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Preparing Today’s Students for Tomorrow’s Workforce

Valley Vision CEO Bill Mueller gave the following remarks at the Hands On the Future 2018 Counselor’s Conference on December 4th in Sacramento. The summit was designed to help hundreds of high school and college counselors in preparing today’s students for tomorrow’s workforce.


“Thank you all for being here.  You are the critical bridge in our economy, connecting students to their future.  We are grateful for the job that you do, and respect the daily responsibility you carry.  We are here to help and support you today.

As Cristina Mendonsa mentioned, I am the CEO of a nonprofit group called Valley Vision with offices here in Sacramento and in Stockton.  We were created 25 years ago to help mayors and business CEOs, hospital executives and foundation leaders come together around a common table to address complicated issues like creating more affordable housing, improving healthcare access, or unraveling how to fill the jobs of the future that no single group could tackle alone.  Our 33-member board includes the chancellors and presidents of all the major public and private universities, the top businesses and foundations CEOs, and many community and nonprofit leaders.  Our job is to help our communities have the important conversations to be future ready.  So Valley Vision is more than a name, it’s also what we do.

How do you plan for a future in an age of massive disruption? A time when technology is transforming old industries and remaking whole new job categories that didn’t exist even 5 years ago?  What about the impact of artificial Intelligence, machine learning, genetic engineering, and the Internet of Things — how are these forces changing the nature of what work will be in the future?  Which jobs will be replaced by machines, or end all together?  Just how important is digital literacy to future success?  (Hint: it’s very important, and we are lagging here).

Thinking more globally, the United Nation forecasts we will add another billion people to the planet by 2030 — that’s just 11 years away.  Many of them will be born in India, China, and about half in Africa, UN data indicates, where medicine is getting better and birth rates are high, but food and water are scarce.  As the climate changes, who will create the cures and breakthroughs that address our next global challenges?

As an independent organization that works closely with our region’s top universities, all the work force boards, government, business and community groups, Valley Vision starts to answer these questions by curating some of the best research from industry and government sources.  We look deeply at reports from the Economist Intelligence Unit, McKinsey & Company, Brookings Institute and others.  We read the latest findings and talk with the researchers themselves.  We also create our own research, partnering with universities, national think tanks, and private enterprise.

That’s why I was asked to join you this morning. To tell you that we have studied the local economy and talked to area employers and have a good handle on what’s coming in the next 5 years.

So what IS coming next, you might ask…

I hope you might have a pen and some paper so you can take a few notes.  I’m going to tell you what we have learned so far about the jobs of the future here.  You’re going to hear more about this later this morning from experts from the field.  I’m also going to tell you what employers and experts are telling us they need most from graduates. So here goes.

In 2015-16, Valley Vision worked with Theresa Milan and the Los Rios Center for Excellence and conducted quantitative and qualitative research to better understand six high growth industry clusters for which we have a competitive advantage.  We held six forums to gain market intelligence directly from hiring managers and conducted individual interviews.

In 2017-18, Valley Vision, along with our workforce board and Strong Workforce partners, held several industry forums and regional advisory meetings to gain an even deeper understanding of in-demand skills and occupations.  We held four Future of Work forums and also mapped more than 115 industry advisory committees with more than 2,200 members.

This is what we learned:

Manufacturing is not in decline, but is growing both nationally and locally.  It is undergoing a renaissance due to technology and the advantages of local suppliers and the need for quality control.  We have added over a million manufacturing jobs nationally since the recession, and are adding thousands of high paying jobs at places like Siemens Mobility that don’t need a four or even a two-year degree, but a high school diploma, certificates and on-the-job training. Dean Peckham is here from the Sacramento Valley Manufacturing Initiative, and can tell you more.

Construction will need over 36,250 jobs through 2021 to rebuild our communities and homes and to incorporate energy efficiency and green materials.

Information and Communications Technology will need over 22,000 new hires at companies like Teledyne Microwave Solutions in Rancho Cordova and Intel in Folsom, through 2021.

Food and Agriculture here employs over 31,200 people with over 1,800 employers.  Notably, 55% of those jobs are “off farm” in production, distribution and processing.  This sector will have over 5,000 job openings over the next few years.

Another of our studies found that job growth is anticipated to continue at a 2.4% growth rate in life sciences as healthcare.  Registered nurses posted the largest job counts amongst the top 15 occupations with nearly 18,000 job openings expected over the next 5 years.  Social assistance and ambulatory care are driving a lot of the job growth. This is just an example of what we have learned so far.

This region also hired the Brookings Institute to come in and do a “stress test” on our region’s economy.  We are wealthy and productive when compared to the other top 100 metros in the US.  But we are falling behind in digital training and literacy.  We need to increase and align our efforts, especially for Blacks and Latinos that will make up a growing share of our workforce in the next 10 years.

You will hear more about these job trends from experts after my talk and ways you can put them to work for you and your students.  The big takeaway here is that the Sacramento Region population is growing faster than any other region in California and we are experiencing a job boom.

Jobs are here – we just need to do a better job of connecting you to them and the skills to get hired.  A lot of terrific job reports can be found on our website.  Look for this image on the home page and click to the underlying information.  We are here to help you.

I want to leave you with five truths we have uncovered from local employers and from leading research.  These truths will help you prepare students for jobs in the future.

First, focus on skills, not titles.  Job titles are in flux.  They don’t predict what an employee will be doing.  Focus instead on building a solid base of skills and fluency applicable to many occupations.  Generalist eager to learn are more hire-able than specialists in most cases.

The second truth is that job ladders are gone.  We are now in an age of job lattice — moving up, across and sideways over the course of our careers.  Skills remain, but as industries merge and re-form and job requirements shift, progress won’t be linear any more.

The third truth we are hearing is that workplace skills are sometimes equal to or more important than technical proficiency.  Adaptability, collaboration, problem solving, empathy, social awareness — these cannot be replaced by machines.  And these New World of Work skills can both be a student’s biggest advantage and biggest deterrent to upward mobility and success.  We need to teach them.

The fourth truth is that we must end the fiction that your education is over once you graduate.  Today global competition and technology change require us all to be lifelong learners.  Curiosity is key in the new world of work.

Last but perhaps most importantly, the fifth truth is that the evolving world of work requires us all must to be entrepreneurs.  A entrepreneurial mindset is more and more vital in the creative destruction underway in our economy.  It’s equally necessary for those filling job openings as those creating their own, Do-it-yourself future, building the next business enterprise.  This is the gig economy imperative.

As the world confronts huge environmental and social changes, California is an ideal place to build a career for students wanting to create the answers to some of societies most vexing challenges.  Not just cures and the latest technology breakthrough, but how will we feed the next billion?  How can we make our communities more resilient to fire?  Make water go farther for more people and grow more crops for a better life.  The answers will come from your students.  We have the jobs for them, and the opportunity is here to make the world a better place.

Thank you.”

To keep up with Valley Vision’s work to advance livability in the Sacramento region, subscribe to our Vantage Point email newsletter!


Bill Mueller is Valley Vision’s Chief Executive.

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