Fast-changing employment picture requires workers to stay on toes, NOVA Workforce director says
By George Avalos, San Jose Mercury News
July 27, 2016
Kris Stadelman and the organization she heads, NOVA Workforce Services, are in the proverbial trenches and the front lines of the job market in Silicon Valley.
Officials at NOVA, a nonprofit that provides workforce and employment training services to help workers develop career skills, know that even in a strong economy, workers have to stay nimble to cope with the fast changes in the region's employment picture. This newspaper recently spoke with Stadelman, NOVA's executive director, about the challenges and opportunities in view for the region's workers.
Q How does the job market in Santa Clara County and San Mateo County look to you?
A From what we can see, there is still a lot of churn in terms of layoff notices. But there is a lot of hiring, too. We see a lot of customers going back to work.
Q Is this different from what you saw in recent years?
A Prior to 2015, hiring was roaring, really going strongly. But now it is back to normal.
Q Does "normal" still look pretty strong?
A We have some of the lowest unemployment rates in California here in Santa Clara County and San Mateo County. Yet when we add up the people affected by (layoff) notices, we are second-highest in the state.
Q What do you think causes this churn?
A A lot of it is the speed of change in the tech industry. New technologies replacing old ones. Mergers and acquisitions. Startups getting underway. Companies go out of business.
Q Have you seen this sort of transformation before?
A The changes are rapid fire. A company is up one year and down the next. Then a new company comes up to be a disruptive force.
Q Would you agree that the tech industry is famous for creative destruction?
A Rapid changes comes with growth. If you think of the growth of technology, the effects of Moore's Law, and apply that to software, the change is explosive.
Q How challenging is that for your clients, the job seekers?
A Besides the change in technologies, you also have globalization. Those are both having an impact on the workforce.
Q Despite these challenges, is it still an advantage for NOVA to operate in such a strong economy and job market?
A I'm the envy of my peers around the country because we have so much job growth. But in many cases, there is global competition for these high-paying tech jobs.
Q What are some of the other challenges even when there is a lot of hiring?
A We see a distinct age bias facing some of our customers at NOVA. It can be subtle bias. But the people who are unemployed the longest after a layoff are pretty much always the older people. Overall, our customer base faces the challenge of global competition, age bias, and keeping their skills up to date.
Q How difficult is it to stay up to date?
A It's pretty hard to be on the cutting edge when technology changes every six months. We are all playing Pokémon Go, now but that didn't even exist a few weeks ago. A lot of job seekers might not be as attractive as someone who just graduated from Stanford or UC Berkeley. This is why we need up-to-date skills for people. You better be on your toes -- know what's around the corner.
Q How challenging is it to keep people trained?
A Our entire education infrastructure is suffering with trying to keep up with the speed of change. Everybody just has to get faster. We can't take two years to approve a curriculum. By then it's too late and the skills have to be updated again.
Q What are some of the solutions?
A The private sector is creating workarounds. The private sector is trying to move quickly.
Q NOVA Services recently merged with PeninsulaWorks. What were the primary reasons for the consolidation?
A There are a couple of drivers. One is money. The federal government gives us less money each year. That burden really hit PeninsulaWorks. They also had a lot of turnover at the executive director level. They had three or four directors in a couple of years, and that created a great deal of turmoil. And you had the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act in 2014. That act stressed regionalism. Another goal of the act is to approach the economy as a region.
Q What are the advantages of being a single organization?
A This gives us the opportunity to cover all of northern Santa Clara County and all of San Mateo County, everything between San Jose and San Francisco, with a single voice and to have one face for the employer market. There are a lot of administrative efficiencies.
Q What effect does the housing crisis have on job seekers and workers in general in Silicon Valley?
A Housing is the problem that overshadows employment -- and transportation -- and the problem becomes more acute all the time. People are moving farther and farther away from the job centers every day. It's a huge problem.
Q Do any immediate solutions come to mind to even begin to start tackling this problem?
A I'm hoping that some organization, a very large one, like ABAG (Association of Bay Area Governments), can convene local jurisdictions to solve this problem. The housing crisis and the problems it causes needs to be large on their radar screen. It will take everyone to get together and figure this out.
Job: Executive director for NOVA Workforce Services since 2009
Birthplace: Chillicothe, Ohio
Education: Ohio University
Prior experience: Workforce development in four states: Ohio, Colorado, Washington and California
Recent trip: To Seattle, to get married at the top of the Space Needle
Currently reading: "The Boys in the Boat" by Daniel James Brown
Guilty pleasure: "Mr. Robot" TV show on USA Network
Favorite french fries: In-N-Out Burger
Dream career: Yoga teacher