Building a Better Workforce

By Sharon Simonson

SAN JOSE—Nineteen-year-old Erin Soucy wants to share his love of history using film and animation. He’s starting with practical training: a yearlong program in digital animation at the San Jose campus of the Metropolitan Education District.

At the end of his studies this month, Soucy will have a work portfolio and certification that could win him a job at Emeryville’s Pixar Animation Studios, Redwood City-based video game-maker Electronic Arts Inc., in an advertising agency or as an in-house corporate designer, said his instructor Eric Whitman.

Soucy plans first to attend college, where he expects to learn more about video game making and “to improve myself overall,” he says. His ultimate goal is to create immersive games to help others see and feel what he sees and feels when he learns about the past. “I want to show people what history is really like. People think it is in a book and so boring, but it is interesting. You play the game as well as you are in the history.”

The Santa Teresa High School graduate shared his dreams May 27 with an exceptionally rapt, relevant and rare audience: California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. “You are making history,” Torlakson told Soucy.


The superintendent, who leads the state Department of Education, visited Soucy’s classroom and two more on the MetroED campus. The tour preceded Torlakson’s announcement of new state grants totaling $30.1 million for four Silicon Valley organizations offering career technical training as a bridge to college and jobs.

The grants are part of a nearly $1.4 billion state initiative begun in 2013 to recast California’s high school, technical education and community colleges to cut high school dropout rates and prepare workers for high-skill, high-wage jobs where opportunity is growing but too few people can take advantage. This year’s funding—$244 million to 40 programs statewide—brings state grants to not quite $500 million so far. The legislature has budgeted $900 million to be expended in the next three years, Torlakson said.

“We know why this is so important: kids find it relevant. Over and over again (today), I heard it is fun and involves practical skills and is connecting all of their learning together,” Torlakson told the news conference. “We are happy and joyful for hard work and believing in a different way and a better way of connecting kids to their futures and who they can become.”

Statewide, 81 percent of students who began high school in the 2010-2011 academic year graduated last year, an all-time high for the state, Torlakson said. High-school students enrolled in career technical education classes complete high school at a rate in excess of 95 percent, he said.

The grants are premised on extensive local industry and public sector input about what kind of skilled workers they need. All grantees must raise money and gain community and business support including internships and job placements to continue the initiatives. MetroED business partners include Cisco Systems Inc., Barracuda Networks, Kaiser Permanente, El Camino Hospital and San Jose integrated circuit maker Xilinx Inc. as well as multiple public service agencies.

At MetroED, the grant will help finance the start of a new cyber-security program and additional courses in mobile application design, sports medicine and pharmacy technology, said Alyssa Lynch, MetroED superintendent.

Xilinx’s involvement with MetroED combines corporate philanthropy and talent development, said Patty Nation, director for global corporate and community engagement. The emphasis is on high-touch activities and projects with students from kindergarten through community college. “Our employees are actively involved. We are not drive-by donors. We do a lot of field trips. We want students to see what we do, what our products go into,” Nation said.

Her husband and daughter both attended MetroED, she said.

Xilinx promotes training in the STEM fields—science, technology, engineering and math—but adds arts to that formula, for STEAM, Nation said: “Without the arts, we don’t have the creativity.”

For 17-year-old Malina Bourbon, attending MetroED has been life changing. “This school is amazing,” she said. When she began studying dentistry last year, she was not at all sure it interested her. “But when I got into the classes, I fell in love with it.”

On May 29, she gained certifications for dental assisting, infection control and radiology. She begins work right away at a dentist’s office where she has been an intern. She plans to continue school at San Jose City College and one day to become a dentist. Before she started at MetroED, “I didn’t know at all that I liked helping others,” she said.

The second child in a family with five kids and two parents with unstable job histories and prospects, Bourbon says, “I don’t want to struggle like my parents.”

Other Silicon Valley organizations that received California Career Pathways Trust grants:

San Jose Evergreen Community College District: $13.1 million

For training for careers in engineering, advanced manufacturing and information and computer technology.

Eastside Union High School District: $5.8 million

School for Integrated Academics and Technologies (SIATech): $5.3 million

To advance a partnership with San Jose-based TechShop Inc., to give students access to a $1 million fabrication lab and further learning about advanced manufacturing

Building a Better Workforce