Policy Research to Support California During Crisis and in Recovery


alifornia Competes Executive Director Dr. Su Jin Gatlin Jez sent this message on April 2, 2020.

Dear Partners, Friends, and Colleagues,

I cannot begin to express my sadness regarding the many lives that have been lost to COVID-19 in the context of this message except to give my heartfelt condolences to those of you who have lost loved ones. I want to share my sincere wishes for a speedy recovery to those of you who are ill and my deepest thanks to those of you working on the frontlines in direct service to our communities. In this message, I share how California Competes aims to support our state’s recovery and ensure that we’re better positioned to withstand the devastating effects of a future crisis.

For the over 1.6 million Californians who face unemployment and the many millions more who are teetering on the edge, California Competes is working hard to fuel equitable postsecondary and workforce opportunities and outcomes that will lead to a California where communities and regional economies thrive. This crisis drives us to accelerate our research and hone in on the relationship between higher education and workforce as more Californians lose their jobs at a rapid pace while many employers, particularly in the healthcare field, can’t find enough qualified workers. We want to address California’s critical healthcare worker shortage and examine other industries now urgently trying to fill positions because our communities rely on them to function. To support California in this crisis, California Competes will focus on developing solutions to help our state avoid more workforce imbalances like this by offering Californians clear pathways to upskilling and reskilling.

Our new line of research begins with a very timely investigation into California’s allied health worker shortage. A deficit of these medical personnel has long plagued the state and the COVID-19 pandemic only makes the shortage more dire. California Competes is partnering with Futuro Health to conduct this important research to determine how best to ensure California has the healthcare workers it needs. As we can easily see now, lives depend on building a deep bench of qualified candidates to fill these positions. While the connection between workforce development and thriving communities is clearly illustrated by this example, the same principles apply to other sectors like manufacturing, technology, and logistics.

The governor has signaled that proposed funding increases for the state’s three public higher education segments along with specific provisions to support work-based learning models and apprenticeships are off the table due to the shock to California’s economy. But higher education’s responsiveness to workforce needs calls for more than funding increases; it also requires both institutions and employers to evolve and adapt. Given the current crisis, they must do so rapidly.

To this end, California Competes’ new research will supply the state and regions, colleges and universities, labor and employers with vital information needed to create a coherent higher education and workforce ecosystem that can effectively serve many needs at once.

Our work will provide both immediate and longer-term answers to questions like:

  • How can colleges and universities better respond to local and regional economic and community needs through online education and partnerships with employers, particularly for unemployed adults and low-wage workers?
  • How can the unemployment and underemployment of millions of Californians turn into an opportunity to develop their skills, improve their quality of life, and strengthen our state’s economic and social fabric?
  • What postsecondary programs and services are most needed now? And how can higher education quickly ramp-up capacity to deliver these programs and services while maintaining quality?
  • How can the delivery of these programs and services be improved?

As rigorous applied policy researchers, we will provide pragmatic, systemic solutions to these thorny social and economic problems. Our team is adapting our current and future research to respond effectively to this critical moment in time. We thank you for your continued interest in our work and look forward to collaborating with you as we partner toward meaningful solutions.

For now, please be well.


Su Jin Gatlin Jez, PhD
Executive Director

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