Job Readiness Room attempts to unlock ‘hidden workforce’ to support job seekers, employers

Amid the tightest job market in at least a decade, Matthew Sanford and his team at the City of Carlsbad have created a program they feel will help with labor challenges. This Economic Development Manager (EDM) has partnered with other SR-78 Corridor cities and the San Diego North EDC to bring the Job Readiness Room to North County.

Job Readiness Room

The Job Readiness Room is free for any job seeker to access online from home. It is also available through the Carlsbad, Oceanside, Escondido, and soon the North County branches of the San Diego County Library systems.

The program provides 15-20 hours of basic soft skills training in three in-demand industries: manufacturing, office administration, and hospitality/food service. The first 10-15 hours gets job seekers acquainted with their industry of choice. An additional 5 hours focuses on communicating at work, showing up on time, working with coworkers, etc. Each track can be completed at the job seeker’s pace, and they are awarded a micro-credential validating their learning.

“Our hope with the Job Readiness Room is that we are both supporting the ‘hidden’ or vulnerable workforce – folks who for whatever reason may not have the same background as other workers – and helping our employers by unlocking a whole new segment of potential workers,” said Sanford.

This “hidden workforce” includes people who may not be on LinkedIn or job posting websites, who may still try to find a job by going into a business to apply.

Benefits for Employers

Employers can benefit from signing up for the free program by gaining access to employees they haven’t been able to consider in the past. Participating companies are asked to guarantee an interview, not guarantee a job, to at least one person who completes the program within their city of business.

Still in its pilot phase, the Job Readiness Room has room to grow to include up to 32 different industries through support from Bendable Labs and Lightcast’s array of skills training.

“We hope that this program proves that the candidates stick in jobs longer,” said Sanford. “[Participants] put in 15-20 hours of their own time to show they’re ready for work. Somebody may not have a college education or relevant work experience, but they’re demonstrating their willingness to learn.”

Carlsbad’s Impact

Outside of the City of San Diego, Carlsbad has the largest economy in the region, contributing $14.6 billion in GRP. The city is a net importer of jobs, with roughly 80,000 jobs and only 55,000 residents in their labor force.

“We provide jobs and opportunity for those who don’t necessarily live in Carlsbad, but we’re certainly supportive of that growth,” said Sanford. “We know that also means we have a responsibility to grow in the right direction, create accessible jobs at all levels, and really grow our economy.”

As part of their “Life in Action” program, Carlsbad highlights opportunities for a great work/life balance. If residents only spend around 8 hours at work, the city wants to make sure they have resources in place to cover the other 16 hours as well.

“You can have a great career in Carlsbad, and you can have the ability to surf in the morning, go on hikes in the afternoon, eat great food, and have great shopping availability. Everything that you’d want to have a great quality of life is here in Carlsbad,” said Sanford.

Working as an EDM

It is part of Sanford’s job to help advance that economy. He spends a lot of his time talking with businesses, hearing their challenges, determining trends he observes, and building programs to help support individual businesses or an entire industry.

He often works as a conduit between a business and the city to help overcome challenges, he said. This is similar to but different from his previous work at the San Diego Regional EDC as their Director of Economic Development.

“Working within the city, there is a lot more direct influence I can have. At the Regional EDC, I might have had a broader influence, but it wasn’t as acute and direct in my ability to shape policy and change things that can have an immediate impact on a business’ ability to succeed. I’m now one step closer to being able to help overcome these issues,” said Sanford.

One such policy change came at last month’s city council meeting when Carlsbad passed the city’s first economic development strategic plan. One of the specific points in the plan is to work with their K-12 and higher education systems to link students with opportunities in their local workforce.

Why North County?

Owing to his work at the Regional EDC, and the San Diego North Chamber of Commerce before that, Sanford became well acquainted with North County’s economy. While he was executing and overseeing North County’s Innovate78 – a collaboration between Carlsbad, Oceanside, Escondido, Vista, and San Marcos cities to promote the prosperity of all their cities together – he was presented with the opportunity to work at the City of Carlsbad as their EDM.

“North County has a lot going for it,” said Sanford. “Seeing how well Carlsbad was run over the last 10-12 years, and the way that they supported their business community and other economic opportunities, was really interesting for me.”

Sanford said he also loves the collaborative nature of North County. The region has done a lot of work across city boundaries with businesses, different city agencies, and Innovate78. This creates a cohesive environment for businesses where they can operate seamlessly without much regard for where the city boundaries fall.

“There are very smart, well-intentioned people working within our cities in North County who are really working to build our communities in a purposeful and intentional way,” said Sanford. “There are so many great resources working together. It makes North County a really special place.”

Written by Caitlyn Canby on the San Diego North Economic Development Council website.

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