Meet the Cities: San Diego, California | XPRIZE Rapid Reskilling

Feb 18 2021

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Through the XPRIZE Rapid Reskilling competition, teams will collaborate with workforce boards and XPERT advisors to advance new training technologies that lead to jobs paying a living wage and offering opportunities for career growth. During the weeks leading up to our March 8th Qualified Teams announcement, we’re introducing you to the people behind each of the six selected pilot workforce boards through the XPRIZE Meet the Cities blog series. Meet our second city partner, San Diego. 

The San Diego Workforce Partnership equips job seekers to increase their economic mobility, help businesses grow, rebuild, and thrive equitably, and prepare children and young adults for the world of work. They believe in the power and dignity of work, fighting for equity and inclusion and dedicating themselves to building programs that meet people where they are.  

All of this makes the organization a perfect partner for piloting the team solutions that are in the running to win the $5M XPRIZE Rapid Reskilling competition – our incentivized prize to quickly reskill under-resourced workers for the digital revolution.

Based out of San Diego County, California, the San Diego Workforce Partnership delivers 76,000+ services to 13,000+ people annually, and focuses on its local industries of advanced manufacturing, education and human development, energy/construction/utilities, health care, information/communications, life sciences/biotechnology, and public administration in their work. 

“When you discuss innovation in workforce development, the San Diego Partnership is a given in that conversation. (Executive Director) Peter Callstorm’s expertise and a very knowledgeable and skilled staff make the Partnership a great organization. NABW is extremely proud of their work.” - Ronald D. Painter, CEO, National Association of Workforce Boards

Here, we talk to the San Diego Workforce Partnership about the myths around job centers and the daily work they do changing people’s lives. Stephen Colón, Senior Manager of Integrated Services, answered our questions.

To begin with, what is the biggest myth about job centers?

The most enduring myth is that they’re job centers. We’re careful to talk about our centers as career centers, because they aren’t just a place you go to find a job. The career centers also have a wide breadth of resources for San Diegans looking to learn a new skill, earn a degree or become more financially savvy. Those resources are available to San Diegans who are unemployed or underemployed, as well as to those who are happy in the job they have or who have chosen to put their work life on pause.

What is one of your favorite stories to tell about someone that your organization has significantly impacted? 

A mentor of mine talks a lot about the “human hack” of listening – that you can get a lot of powerful data from people by avoiding quick conclusions, asking lots of questions, and trying to understand what their needs, wants and priorities are. 

I’m so proud of how well our Reentry Works program leverages that “human hack” to create career pathways that transform lives for people who have criminal records. That team is great at seeing beyond a conviction and into each program participant’s potential. Here’s an example of a time they did that for Juan, a program graduate

Six-year-old Juan ran away from home to escape an abusive, alcoholic father. He survived by sleeping in abandoned cars. He needed money to survive and began cleaning car windows and working at gas stations. When that wasn’t enough he turned to stealing, and eventually, selling drugs. He wound up in prison for the first time at the age of 14. Now, at 41, he has taken steps to begin a new life. “I was tired,” he sighs. So he enrolled in the Second Chance Job Center program at East Mesa Reentry Facility, a collaborative effort involving the San Diego Workforce Partnership. “I met Alex and Estela. They were approachable and had so much passion about the programs at Second Chance and the opportunity to change. I listened and I felt like I finally mattered – that I was worth something, I have value.”

Upon release, Juan moved into a recovery center and fell back into what he calls a “machismo” way of thinking. “I thought I could stay straight on my own, but I couldn’t.” He was arrested for a probation violation and was sent back to East Mesa for 30 days. “I was scared,” he painfully recalls. “I ran into Alex again and he continued to encourage me to come to Second Chance. When I was released this time, I came to Second Chance but I was still arrogant. I thought, ‘I don’t need this program.’ As the class progressed, I found out everything I knew about the way I presented myself at a job interview or how I was answering questions was wrong! I said to myself, ‘I need to accept this opportunity and put my trust in them.’ It’s difficult to trust people when your mind is so screwed up and you’ve made so many bad decisions.”

After graduating JRT, Juan enrolled at City College. He currently works at the shipyard and looks forward to a career in HVAC. He also has reconnected with his mom, his sisters and his grown son, who now proudly tells his father, “I can talk to my friends about you!”

That’s a great success story. We wanted to ask: what are you most radically optimistic about in 2021? 

Economic strains are just some of the many, very serious losses felt by San Diegans in 2020. The past year has been incredibly hard for San Diego’s working people, small business owners, and everyone who participates in the economy. I’m optimistic that, in 2021 and beyond, we can make Newton’s Third Law apply to the economy as much as it does to physics. We can respond with a more fair system that rewards businesses who do right by their workers and by their communities, that protects working people from risks far outside their control, and that ensures true economic mobility for every San Diegan. We’re going to build something that’s stronger and more equitable than what we’ve been forced to leave behind.

How do we get there?

Part of that means investing time and money in our job quality and inclusive business growth initiatives, like High Road Kitchens. It also means engaging seriously with job seekers and businesses to make sure we’re designing and funding programs that meet their real needs. That’s why we said “yes” to XPRIZE Rapid Reskilling and the Future of Work Grand Challenge in partnership with JFFLabs. XPRIZE Rapid Reskilling, in particular, requires challenge participants to demonstrate that their projects are worker-centered and have been designed in response to feedback by the workers who are far too often left behind. A number of the submissions we’ve received are very promising on that front.  

Next up: How XPRIZE Rapid Reskilling tech is making a big impact in Michigan

Previous: Meet the Cities: Dallas, Texas I XPRIZE Rapid Reskilling

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