Some say more than 33 percent of our local Sonoma County population is over age 55 or nearing retirement and at the same time we are losing young people who are moving away in increased numbers due to the high cost of living or low paying jobs. A recent headline pointed to the fact that school district enrollments are down over 10 percent in some county public schools, and a few have already closed, or been combined with others, for lack of students – such as Windsor Creek Elementary. Adults are also moving away rather than rebuild fire damaged homes at much higher cost.

Taken to their ultimate conclusion, these factors could negatively impact our local economy and not provide the pool of skilled workers needed for full recovery after the fires while providing a stable workforce for the future prepared to meet changing requirements.

The Education and Workforce Alignment partnership is a breath of fresh air given current circumstances. Most students not only enjoy academic subjects, a good many also embrace projects where they work with their hands to produce something tangible, worthwhile and marketable. Today jobs in the trades often pay more than office work, although the later is still more desirable.

Every student needs a mentor, an advisor, someone from the real world of work to guide them as they seek employment opportunities. Taking a year off for an internship is a good way to determine what industries or job categories you will like, or won’t like. I’m sure you know people who received a college degree and have never worked a day in the field of study printed on their “sheep skin” diploma.

We live in an age of active collaboration in all sectors. Now is the time for employers to join with the academic community by providing the linkage enabling students to transition smoothly from school to work and be successful – and want to stay here in our community.

The many goals and ongoing programs described by this panel (and summarized in the companion article on this website recapping their presentations) is a good place to begin learning about how the business community can help. Members of the Sonoma County Alliance can be agents of change by getting involved with our schools at all levels — as advisors, as employers, internship managers and scholarship providers for the benefit of the next generation.

Eric Goldschlag, President