Written by MARK RILEY
One of the most important building blocks for a strong, growing economy is the development of a talented workforce. Without qualified talent, Central Valley businesses and communities can’t stay competitive or drive growth for the benefit of our workers and residents. Although there are job training success stories in our region, we can do better.
Even though I work for a bank, I often spend more time speaking with business owners and other leaders about people than I do about capital — underscoring the fact that their No. 1 business concern is attracting qualified individuals from a shrinking pool of talent. These business leaders agree that the current state of career preparation is not sufficient to meet present and future workforce demands, threatening the Fresno-Visalia area’s continued economic growth.
Only one in five residents in Fresno County have earned a four-year college degree, and those numbers are lower in surrounding counties. And more than one-quarter of residents 25 years and older in Fresno, Madera, Kings and Tulare counties do not have a high school diploma, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
So how does our region address this challenge? First, we need an approach that better prepares new and returning talent for the job skills needs of tomorrow. Next, we need to develop strategies that better connect the needs of employers with training providers.
A great starting point is partnering with higher education institutions to work to close the talent gap. According to Innovate Tulare-Kings County, by 2020, 67% of jobs will require a career certificate or college degree. Improving postsecondary opportunity with both tuition assistance and employer-based training is essential, and business must become a key player in postsecondary training. We have worked with Fresno State on its Veterans Education Support Program and look to additional opportunities with other colleges in the region.
But another often overlooked resource is the region’s tremendous network of nonprofits that work with those who are unemployed and underemployed to teach the latest job skills, workplace etiquette, career development opportunities and even help place them into jobs.
Bank of America is proud to work with two of the most proactive organizations promoting workforce development as well as broader economic development in the region — the Central Valley Community Foundation and the Greater Fresno Area Chamber of Commerce. I have the privilege of serving on the boards of both organizations, and the demand for upskilling our current and near-future workforce is a common topic of discussion.
We have also been strategically deploying our philanthropic capital towards local and regional workforce development programs so that more people who are financially disadvantaged can leverage today’s growing economy with a sustainable, well-paying job.
In just the past two years, we’ve provided more than $200,000 in grants to local nonprofits like Community Services & Employment Training (CSET) for its Work-Based Learning for Vulnerable and In-School Youth Populations program, and the Fresno Area Hispanic Foundation for its Mujeres Hablando de Business program, which helps bilingual women entrepreneurs launch and build businesses.
The bank now also offers its paid summer internship program for the first time in Fresno, called Student Leaders. These high-achieving and civically minded teens are placed in roles with local nonprofits for the summer, learning invaluable job skills while contributing back to the community. Youth employment is so important that, this summer alone across the United States, Bank of America is investing more than $4 million in funding to support nearly 3,000 summer jobs for teens across the country through various initiatives, with a particular focus on young people from low-income families.
As a region, we cannot develop talent for tomorrow with yesterday’s skills. Increasingly rapid technological advances and other global changes will put pressure on individuals to adapt to new expectations in both the jobs of today and the new ones of tomorrow. The Fresno area is fortunate to have so many programs in place to help our residents do just that, and Bank of America looks forward to working with many of these organizations to continue building the Central Valley’s economy.
Mark Riley is the Market President for Bank of America in the Fresno/Visalia area of the Central Valley. In this capacity Mark leads the company’s philanthropic efforts and drives business collaboration and employee engagement across all lines of business. Riley is also the Market Executive for the Central Valley South team — covering a diverse portfolio of Commercial and Agribusiness clients. In this role he is responsible for revenue generation and delivering the commercial and investment banking resources of Bank of America.