Santa Maria is beginning to think seriously about the workforce of the future.
That’s a big step toward putting North Santa Barbara County on a faster track for job growth.
Vital to this effort is a program called WALI, or the Workforce and Literacy Initiative, led by the Economic Alliance of Northern Santa Barbara County. WALI’s semi-annual event will be held March 26 and feature Allan Hancock College President Kevin Walthers. The United Way of North County and Lee Central Coast Newspapers are among the sponsors.
The idea is to start with concepts such as basic literacy and help farmworker families and other low-income residents improve their skills.
The ambitious goals include providing at least 1,000 adults with basic skills, doubling the number of technical skills certificates earned each year and slashing the number of students unable to read at the appropriate grade level by 50 percent.
These are important steps forward in the overall economic development of North Santa Barbara County, where unemployment has been running at far higher levels than in most of the tri-county region.
Indeed, even as jobs have returned to the Santa Maria Valley and surrounding areas, the unemployment rate has gone up as more people have entered the workforce or sought to upgrade from part-time to full-time work.
But jobs are only part of the story — all jobs start with an employer who needs to staff up. Which is why an announcement from Women’s Economic Ventures about the opening of an office in Santa Maria also is worth noting.
The office, which opened on March 18 in the Make It Your Business incubator, will begin offering entrepreneurship training in Spanish in April.
Since 1991, WEV has helped more than 3,000 businesses start or expand in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.
“Increasing WEV’s presence and availability to clients in Santa Maria means access to more support for local entrepreneurs,” said Leah Gonzales, the director of WEV’s Women’s Business Center program.
The WALI summit will be held at the Santa Maria Inn and information is available at www.wali.econalliance.org. More information about WEV’s programs, including its microlending program, is available at www.wevonline.org.