Industry Groups on Why the Cradle-to-Career Data System Matters to Their Work

by Gail Yen

Senior Policy and Research Analyst


Topics: Data Systems, Employment, Workforce


As one of two states without a statewide longitudinal data system, California is making progress in developing one, otherwise known as the Cradle-to-Career Data System. To highlight the importance of the new data system and how it will provide key information for employers, California Competes cohosted a virtual briefing, Education-to-Employment Data for California’s Industry with California EDGE Coalition, California Small Business Majority, California Labor Federation, and UNITE-LA on April 1, 2021. The webinar featured a discussion with leading industry experts, moderated by California Competes Executive Director Dr. Su Jin Jez, on why employers should be invested in the development of the Cradle-to-Career Data System.

WestEd Project Director Kathy Booth began the briefing with a presentation on the Cradle-to-Career Data System and the status of the planning process. Booth noted a major problem the data system will address—the disconnected existence of information on Californians’ educational journeys, employment and earnings, and social services available and delivered. This siloing of data makes it challenging to identify barriers Californians face as they move from early childhood through adulthood. The data system would link those existing education, social services, and workforce data so we can understand Californians’ pathways to improve programs and policies.

Booth explains, “As it relates to employers, the data system would help us better understand how we need to evolve our systems as the needs of our employers change. Importantly, not only do we need to put this information together so researchers can look at it, we need to make this information broadly available in a form that will be useful for employers as they make plans about how they should be building additional skills that are really going to enable them to do meaningful work.”

The data system would help us better understand how we need to evolve our systems as the needs of our employers change.

- Kathy Booth, project director, WestEd

The purpose of the data system is to provide neutral, reliable information, allowing teachers, individuals, and policymakers to learn about the trajectory of a student’s experience starting with early learning and through all stages of education and then into the workforce. The data will also be actionable so that the various types of users can understand what’s happening and what actions they could take that would enable them to achieve their goals. For example, the data system would make it possible for employers to look at the data and see what the talent pool looks like and how to attract those workers to their companies.

California has a history of not producing enough college graduates. The state needs more people with higher level skills in order to fill jobs and strengthen the economy. Therefore, Booth notes, “The data system would provide information for employers to better understand where students are at in their education to workforce pipeline and what employment and retraining services are needed to get them ready.”

Following Booth’s presentation, the briefing turned to a panel discussion with leading industry experts, moderated by California Competes Executive Director Dr. Su Jin Gatlin Jez. The discussion featured the following key experts representing small business owners, education reform and youth workforce development, and workers and their unions:

  • UNITE-LA President & CEO David Rattray
  • Small Business Majority Senior California Policy & Engagement Manager/Northern California Manager Bianca Blomquist
  • California Labor Federation Workforce and Economic Development Executive Director John Brauer

The biggest thing about the data system is this connection between education and post-education so there needs to be good data about how the graduates do after they go into the workforce and how they are succeeding over time.

- David Rattray, president and CEO, UNITE-LA

Dr. Jez first asked each panelist to explain why and how the data system is important to them and their work with their constituents. Rattray argued that the data system is an obvious investment. “Without the data system, we have no idea when we make strategic decisions about where to invest money on early care, preschool, K-12, and in different programs targeted for different students. We have no way to understand what happens in the long-term.”

He added, “Higher education wants to know what occupations are in demand and how to shape their pathways to be what the employers want. If we as employers don’t do a good job at expressing what that is, why would we expect higher education to know what they need to train in and educate for? The biggest thing about the data system is this connection between education and post-education so there needs to be good data about how the graduates do after they go into the workforce and how they are succeeding over time. That way, the postsecondary and the whole cradle-to-career system can have a clearer picture of what’s happening in labor markets today and what’s likely to happen tomorrow so they can shape education more effectively.”

Blomquist underscored how critical the expressed excitement about the data system is and noted that the investment in the workforce will help level the playing field for small business owners and allow them to play a role in state efforts. “Small business owners don’t have dedicated HR departments. They don’t have training budgets or enough people to hire to scale. The ability to organize small employers within industries or across industries or across regions would provide an amazing opportunity for small business owners to weigh in on what they need.”

For her national perspective, Blomquist drew attention to the fact that the United States spends less on workforce and on its training efforts for those who are unemployed, which emphasizes the data system’s analytical importance to promote policies to help the unemployed and displaced workers not just in California but also throughout the country.

For Brauer, the data system would enhance the various collaborations the Workforce and Economic Development Program at the California Labor Federation has through labor management training partnerships, apprenticeship programs, and high road training partnerships to create and retain good jobs. “This data system will be able to identify barriers and address those barriers within those different partnerships that our employers and our unions may experience to get workers to come into their industries and be adaptable or ready as changes are taking place in the California economy and in the individual sectors. It will also help with looking at the investments to see how they’re translating for both the employers and the workers.”

Overall, we all want to maximize the investments the state is making.

- John Brauer, executive director, Workforce and Economic Development, California Labor Federation

Brauer also then referenced the Future of Work Commission report and stated, “Part of where the labor movement is pushing is at least the transparency within the outcomes of various investments that the state is making as to whether unions are involved or not in those workforce partnerships and education partnerships. Overall, we all want to maximize the investments the state is making.”

Provided that the Legislature and the Governor authorize the funding of the data system in June, implementation is broken into different phases over a five year period. The first year establishes the infrastructure and links the various data sources. The data system would also have three types of tools to help various types of stakeholders use this information. For example, the public would have access to analytical tools, including a dashboard, simple infographics, and fact sheets. Students and their families could use a suite of operational tools that support college and career planning and access to financial aid and other services. Lastly, there’s a support structure that includes outreach and professional development to help build the capacity of researchers, policymakers, and the public for using this information. All of this will be done with a high level of standards related to security to ensure that individual data are safe and protected.