10th Anniversary Interview Series: California Chamber of Commerce

by California Competes

Topics: Degree Attainment, Employment, Enrollment, Race and Ethnicity, Regions, Ed Equity, Adults, COVID-19, Workforce, Online Education

As California charts its post-pandemic recovery, better aligning workforce development with higher education is essential. Though the COVID-19 crisis has both underscored and exacerbated many of the challenges in this area, it has also allowed stakeholders from all sectors to rethink their approaches to training, upskilling, hiring, and more. Today, our state has a singular opportunity to respond to specific regional needs while connecting more skilled workers with higher-paying jobs of the future—and California’s employers must rise to the occasion alongside its educational institutions.

In celebration of California Competes’s tenth anniversary, Loren Kaye, President of the California Foundation for Commerce and Education, joined Executive Director Dr. Su Jin Gatlin Jez for a discussion on employers’ relationship with higher education. The Foundation is affiliated with the California Chamber of Commerce and serves as a think tank for the California business community.

Mr. Kaye highlighted the example of Kaiser Permanente, which has used the construction of a specialized Sacramento facility as the basis for a partnership with the California Chamber of Commerce to create a talent pipeline management collaborative in coordination with local community colleges and nonprofit organizations. He and Dr. Jez also touched on how public policy can remedy race-based disparities in education and employment, the regional impacts of increased credentialing, and the potential and limitations of online education.

Read what Mr. Kaye had to say about this key priority area below.

Su Jin Gatlin Jez: Today, I’m happy to spend some time with Loren Kaye, President of the California Foundation for Commerce and Education. Loren Kaye was appointed to the Foundation in January of 2006, and he’s devoted his career to developing, analyzing, and implementing public policy issues in California, with a special emphasis on improving the state’s business and economic climate. He was also a gubernatorial appointee to the state’s Little Hoover Commission, charged with evaluating the efficiency and effectiveness of state agencies and programs. He served in senior policy positions for Governors Pete Wilson and George Deukmejian, including Cabinet Secretary to the Governor and Undersecretary of the California Trade and Commerce Agency.

Loren Kaye: First of all, Su Jin, I just want to say how honored I am to participate in this discussion, and congratulations on the tenth-year anniversary of your organization. It’s a great organization and a real addition to the public policy debate in California. So we’ll hope you have many, many more decade anniversaries to come.

Su Jin Gatlin Jez: Many of us are familiar with the California Chamber [of Commerce] but aren’t as familiar with the California Foundation for Commerce and Education. Can you talk a little bit about what the organization is and its relationship to CalChamber?

Loren Kaye: CFCE is a 501(c)3 that’s affiliated with CalChamber, so we are more or less a think tank or policy foundation for CalChamber. We do research and education on a wide variety of issues related to the business climate, taxes, regulations, transportation—just go down the list—and education.

Su Jin Gatlin Jez: What is CalChamber’s top priority when it comes to higher education?

Loren Kaye: We think it’s our job to stick up for higher education funding for their resources. When it comes to the state budget, there’s a lot of competition for the dollars that higher education competes for. So, we want to stick up for that. We also want to ensure that they’re not only well-resourced, but in particular [that] there are resources to ensure access to higher education and our institutions, especially UC, will be able to create innovation and be able to work with our members to spin off more businesses and more opportunities.

Su Jin Gatlin Jez: From healthcare to tech to any number of other industries, California businesses worry about pipeline issues—and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated those concerns. How do we bridge those gaps between talent pools and workforce demands?

Loren Kaye: This is biased because I’m speaking for employers, but I think it’s an educated bias [because] the employers are at the receiving end of the talent pipeline, and the pipeline can’t operate unless the end client [the employer] gets what it needs. And so, the talent providers need to be more structured and more curious and more informed on what the needs of the employers are.

Su Jin Gatlin Jez: Do you have a sense of how that could happen?

Loren Kaye: The talent providers have to understand that, while they’re really good at bringing along their students, they don’t have the insight of what the jobs of the future or what the skills are, what they should be. Even if they know in theory what the jobs are, what are the skills that are going to be part of those jobs, and what those can be, obviously those can be very dynamic, and it requires them to be obviously quite agile in what they teach. But they just won’t be successful if the talent providers insist on saying, “Hey, we’ve taught, we’ve got a whole cohort of students ready to take these jobs, and it’s not the jobs that employers want.”

Su Jin Gatlin Jez: CalChamber has also been supportive of the need to improve diversity and opportunity in California’s public workforce and educational institutions with its support of Prop 16. Can you talk about how the Chamber came to this position and how your organization is approaching racial justice work and closing equity gaps?

Loren Kaye: Yes. Really glad you asked this. It’s obvious that California still suffers from profound racial disparities and opportunity gaps. We’ve made a huge amount of progress over the years, especially when it comes to eliminating official barriers and a lot of the cultural barriers. But the overhang from years of discrimination, wealth disparities, communities that struggle with intergenerational poverty, social breakdowns—all of that is still with us. For business operators and owners, education disparities and failures are an existential issue.

Su Jin Gatlin Jez: Where do you see higher education fitting into our state’s economic recovery? Does that differ by region or industry at all?

Loren Kaye: The function of higher education is providing skilled and educated graduates, and to the extent they stay in California, that’s just absolutely critical to our future prosperity and social cohesion. So I don’t think there’s really anything to replace that.

Su Jin Gatlin Jez: Thank you, Loren, for spending this time with us today. We really appreciate your leadership at CalChamber and your focus and vision for higher education and its role and supporting our state’s economy, and also leading around racial equity and equity to make sure all Californians have access to good jobs and can help our state remain a global leader.

Loren Kaye: Thank you! It’s been my pleasure, and good luck to California Competes and yourself in the year to come.