By Evelyn Ramos
Employer and Campus Engagement Lead California State University-Stanislaus

The growing utility of technology is becoming increasingly critical to key Central Valley industries. The agriculture industry is using tech to judiciously but effectively utilize limited water resources, healthcare services are being provided more affordably and effectively, and renewable energy industries are taking advantage of the abundant wind and sunlight. 

Meanwhile the long-reaching impact of the pandemic has forced small businesses that once brought customers in through their storefront to rely on their digital presence to attract shoppers. 

With more digitization in the workplace, there’s a proportionately higher demand for a skilled workforce. Nationally, the number of jobs requiring medium-to-high degree digital skills jumped from 45 percent in 2002 to 71 percent in 2016. That same trend is playing out here in the Central Valley, and has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Fortunately, a handful of Central Valley forces have taken on closing this skills gap and upskilling our workforce. 

In 2021, Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities partnered with Google and  announced an expansion of the Grow with Google Career Readiness Program to provide digital skills training at Hispanic-serving institutions, including CSU Stanislaus whose population is approximately 60 percent Latino. According to the National Skills Coalition, more than half of Latino workers lack the digital skills necessary for the workforce. It’s a gap that’s deeply affected the Central Valley, and we’re grateful for programs like Google’s Career Readiness that are critical in bridging the gap.

Across the state, Google’s Career Readiness program will prepare 200,000 Latino students for the digital workforce. Approximately 700 students per semester will receive this training here in the Central Valley. 

The outcome of the program will be more Latino students who have a modern toolkit of digital skills that they can use to land an internship, start a career, open a business, and educate other members of their community on the digital skills and tools available to thrive in our modern economy.

Our region should welcome continued investment and encourage students to take advantage of these career-boosting opportunities. 

Taking the concept of upskilling our workforce one step further, the presence of code academies have proliferated in the Central Valley. One such code academy, Bay Valley Tech, is helping workers improve their digital skills so that they can land higher-wage tech jobs, the majority of which are now fully remote or developing satellite offices, without the time and expense of attaining a four-year college degree. 

Jobs within California’s home-based innovation economy are not only highly lucrative, a median salary of $80,000 a year, but their presence uplifts the surrounding community.  U.C. Berkeley Economist, Enrico Moretti, studied the multiplier effect of innovation jobs, publishing his findings in his book The New Geography of jobs. Moretti found that for each new tech job, five additional jobs are created outside the technology sector. 

The rising tide of more jobs and increasing salaries lifts all boats. With more medium-to-high wage earners, the state collects more income tax revenues, which are then used to fund important social programs. These revenues were critical to bridging California’s budget gap through COVID-19 crisis. 

The greatest barrier rural communities face in increasing digital skills, embarking on a tech-focused career, and attracting tech investment is access to broadband internet. Across the Central Valley, an estimated 46,000 households still lack basic broadband infrastructure. The San Joaquin Valley Regional Broadband Consortium is working to close that gap by bringing broadband services to underserved communities across the region. 

When more homes have broadband, hard-to-reach populations become more accessible.  Along with that comes education, jobs and wage growth.  

A connected, digital world is the future. For the Central Valley to harness our full potential, it is critical that we ensure our most vulnerable communities are connected to the internet and receive the digital skills training necessary to work, compete, and thrive. Through educational services provided by Google, CSU Stanislaus, and Bay Valley Tech, and through programs that increase access to broadband, the Central Valley economy will be transformed.