While the world knows Silicon Valley as the nation’s most prosperous region, a prevailing media narrative of San Jose is of a deep and dispiriting economic divide. This economic gap emanates from a “skills gap”: workers with 21st Century skills thrive in our tech-driven and globally oriented economy, while thousands of our families are increasingly left behind.
In the words of social entrepreneur Leila Janah, our Valley’s bountiful talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not. Thousands of families struggle against the headwinds of global economic and technological change. While we cannot change those winds, we can adjust our sails to expand opportunity for them — particularly for our youth.
In 2015, the City of San José teamed up with Work2Future Foundation to launch San Jose Works (SJ Works), an initiative designed to prepare students from San José’s underserved and at-risk neighborhoods to succeed in the Valley’s economy.
In 2017, we expanded that partnership to include the Silicon Valley Organization (The SVO) — which launched STRIVE San José to serve as a bridge between private and non-profit sector employers, and SJ Works — and high school districts in San José.
Since then, the program has grown thanks to the city’s $1 million annual investment, the SVO's resources, private investment from local employers like Facebook, Bank of America, Alaska Airlines, Microsoft, and Western Digital Corporation, and funding from the state Career Technical Education (CTE) grants. Together, we leverage the expertise, connections, and resources of each partner for tremendous collective impact.
The program — now in its fifth year — has connected more than 3,200 young San Joseans with their first summer jobs. In addition to work experience, SJ Works equips students with the professional and financial literacy skills — such as ensuring every student opens a savings account — they will need to participate in a 21st-century economy.
This effort bridges divides by attracting employers who believe in the promise of San Jose’s students. To date, SJ Works has inspired the investment of more than 150 Silicon Valley employers, across a spectrum of industries that include technology, healthcare, government, and manufacturing.
In exchange for hiring San Jose students, SJ Works’ more than 150 employers reap the benefits that come with developing a more diverse pipeline of local talent. By investing in this pipeline, employers are also expanding a workforce that stands to face a shortage of 1.1 million college-educated employees by 2030. Among the chief culprits of this shortage: a declining enrollment rate of Californian high school graduates in four-year universities.
So, we’re connecting many of the participating San Jose Works high schoolers with the San Jose College Promise, and its provision of funding and connections to eliminate the financial barriers of tuition, books, and fees. We also provide them with critical supportive services like academic bridge programs, mentors, counselors, and childcare that keeps students on track to graduate on time.
With widening divides and an increasingly-stretched workforce on the horizon, we critically need more of our local companies to invest in the next-generation of talent — one with Silicon Valley roots and loyalty. By leveraging public-private partnerships like SJ Works, our community can help us disperse the dividends of Silicon Valley’s prosperity while strengthening and diversifying the workforce pipeline they rely on.
As we welcome nearly 1,000 new students to SJ Works this year, we also encourage the continued investment from our partners in the private sector to employ the hundreds of students ready to work, but who are stuck on the waiting list. By investing in our young people, together, we can broaden opportunity in Silicon Valley and nurture the next generation of great talent.
If you are an employer interested in contributing to the SJ Works Program, want to hire a San Jose student, or mentor a participant please contact Eddie Truong at email@example.com.
About the authors: Sam Liccardo is the Mayor of the City of San Jose. Matthew R. Mahood is the President and CEO of The Silicon Valley Organization (The SVO).