Global Talent Bridge Partner Blog

News on practice and policy affecting internationally trained immigrants and refugees

SIIP Spotlight: San Diego – Redefining Workforce Development

Thursday November 21, 2019 | by Brooke Valle

Brooke Valle speaks on a panel that explored job quality, equity, outcomes and opportunities to lift up San Diego County’s immigrant job seekers, families, businesses, and economy at the annual Workforce Frontiers Symposium produced by the Workforce Partnership. 


At the San Diego Workforce Partnership, we are redefining workforce development. We believe in the power and dignity of work and understand that an integrated approach is the key to empowering individuals to attain durable self-sufficiency and businesses to create a stable workforce. The future of work is upon us and we strive to keep pace with a rapidly changing, skills-based economy in order to achieve the highest levels of personal and economic impact for our community.

To accomplish this, we partner with the community through Welcoming San Diego, a multi-sector effort to advance the civic, social and economic integration of immigrants and refugees. We envision a vibrant, inclusive, and safe binational region that attracts families and businesses from around the world and that all San Diegans can flourish in.  Our collective work is guided by our Strategic Plan on Immigrant and Refugee Integration which lays out corresponding short-term and long-term strategies ranging from policy, to funding and to innovations that build upon existing activities and model after best practices. This plan requires all stakeholders to commit to sustained collaboration, communication and accountability measures. Through working together towards these goals, we will continue San Diego’s proud tradition as a welcoming gateway for dreamers, builders, and freedom-seekers.

The San Diego Workforce Partnership, and the Welcoming San Diego community identified the Skilled Immigrant Integration Program as a way to accelerate our implementation of the strategic plan by learning from other communities’ experiences. Led by a guiding team made up of the Workforce Partnership (myself), Welcome Back Center (Munqith Alhajjaj) and Welcoming San Diego (Samuel Tsoi), we have focused our efforts on 1) raising awareness of immigrant integration as an economic imperative; 2) identifying ways to increase and simplify career pathways and credential conversion processes; and 3) engaging with new funders to expand investments in serving immigrant populations.

On November 7, the Workforce Partnership featured a panel that tackled an exploration of job quality, equity, outcomes and opportunities to lift up San Diego County’s immigrant job seekers, families, businesses, and economy as part of the annual Workforce Frontiers Symposium. This event is attended by more than 300 leaders and ‘renegades’ interested in coming together to be inspired and explore new frontiers for action. As panel host I shared data from the New American Economy’s “Map the Impact” report, which shows that 24 percent of San Diego’s population are immigrants accounting for $7.5 billion in taxes paid and $20 billion in earning power. Panel participants, immigrant business owner Dyna R. Jones, CEO, First Promise Care Services; and Rahmatullah Mokhtar, Financial Education Coordinator, International Rescue Committee, and former refugee, tackled challenges related to immigrant hiring, access to training and supportive services. We encouraged attendees to consider how they can be change-makers in integrating immigrants into the education and workforce system.

In addition to raising awareness at events such as the symposium, the Workforce Partnership and its community partners are examining a variety of new approaches to serve the community based on feedback from participants at local America’s Job Centers of California.

  • In collaboration with the Adult Education system, we are exploring new ways to make language learning contextualized and accessible, from tech credential programs that embed language learning to the pilot of a cell phone-based tool.
  • We are exploring how to apply income share agreements, an approach that gives students access to education without an upfront cost to the credential conversion process by bundling the associated costs. Under the Workforce Partnerships current Workforce ISA program, the program costs a student nothing up front. If the student lands a job making above $40,000 after completion, he/she will “pay it forward” – six to eight percent of salary for a set period of time, to help the next group of San Diegans pursue their own career goals.
  • We are designing a web-based credential conversion and career pathway approach that will allow users to quickly identify options available based on their field of study and home country with the goal of addressing many of the existing knowledge and access gaps to equip both immigrant job seekers and those who support them with the information necessary to make career decisions. We believe the tool can not only provide interactive, state specific information on the process for converting a credential issued overseas for use in California, but also easy access to information on educators that provide coursework in each of the career paths. This includes individual credits needed to fill gaps identified during the credential evaluation process and information on labor market data and job quality indicators for a given occupation.

While programs are important, we realize it is structure and systems that truly transform communities. In November, the City of San Diego hired Rita Fernandez, the first ever immigrant affairs manager.  Her new role will involve institutionalizing and elevating immigrant integration policies, programs and practices in San Diego. She will work with various city agencies to coordinate how the city addresses immigrants’ needs.

This is a critical step forward in moving implementation of the strategy to the next level. Bridging newcomer and native-born communities toward shared prosperity and a common future requires thinking and acting expansively so having a member of the city leadership team dedicated to the immigrant affairs will elevate the impact.

Brooke Valle is the strategy officer at the San Diego Workforce Partnership.

Questions? Comments? Tell us what you think here.

Click here for more from WES Global Talent Bridge.