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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Building Institutions from the Region Up: Regional Workforce Development Collaboratives in California


Since 1995, the James Irvine Foundation has invested more than $11 million to support the growth and development of Collaborative Regional Initiatives (CRIs) throughout the state -- nonprofit organizations that engage key players from business, environmental, and a variety of other advocacy groups with players from local governments and public agencies to create improvements in their regions. CRIs work on issues ranging across transportation, land use, housing, and economic development. They work in a variety of ways from developing legislation to media campaigns to practical work on particular projects. All are directed at building civic capacity and filling in gaps where government does not or cannot act. Some CRIs have been in place for years; others are more recently formed. They represent experiments in regional governance. The Irvine Foundation tapped a team of Berkeley faculty to perform an assessment of the CRIs so the foundation can target its resources in order to make them effective and sustainable over time and assist them in producing valuable outcomes for their regions. Together the team published case studies of four major CRIs -- the Bay Area Alliance for Sustainable Communities, Joint Venture: Silicon Valley, the San Diego Dialogue and the Sierra Business Council -- as well as an analysis of regional workforce development collaboratives in California.

The study of regional workforce development collaboratives in California looks at a new approach to the problem of linking economic and workforce development -- in particular, a theory of change proposed by a group of stakeholders from a variety of sectors (government, foundations, and the workforce development system) in the late 1990s. To meet the multiple goals of increasing economic opportunity, decreasing poverty, and increasing regional economic competitiveness, these experts advocated a new workforce development system that was collaborative in scope, regional in scale, career-oriented in focus, and data-intensive in strategy. This study examines five cases that broadly follow this model of regional collaboration in order to determine how effective they are at problem-solving.

The California Center for Regional Leadership (CCRL), the James Irvine Foundation (JIF), and the California Employment Development Department (EDD) worked with organizations to produce proposals that developed career progressions and identified partners and funding. Four organizations -- three Collaborative Regional Initiatives (CRIs) and one community college that was formerly part of a CRI -- were selected in March 2001. Of the CRIs, Fresno Area CRI was to train in occupations related to its water technology cluster; Gateway Cities Partnership (GCP) was to train in logistics; and Orange County Business Council (OCBC) was to train in information technology. Cabrillo College -- formerly part of a CRI called the Santa Cruz Clusters Project -- created the Watsonville Digital Bridge Academy (WDBA) also to train in information technology.

This study compares these four workforce demonstration projects with another regional workforce development collaborative, the San Francisco Information Technology Consortium (SFITC). SFITC, which is funded in part by the James Irvine Foundation, consists of a network of community-based organizations and community colleges offering entry-level computer training, job placement, upgrade training, and needed social support to current and prospective IT workers.

Based on 40 interviews with collaborative leaders and key informants, as well as review of related documents, this study asks whether the CRIs organize problem-solving around workforce development more effectively than do other collaboratives. It finds that regional collaboration is not well suited to addressing both workforce and economic development goals; however, it can make workforce development programs more effective if partners from both inside and outside the current system are engaged in a networked structure with clear roles and responsibilities, as opposed to a collaboration on paper. The report looks first at how organization structure (origin, mission, and organization), economic development focus, program design, and collaborative style shape program and other outcomes such as adaptiveness, ability to mobilize resources, and system change. A final section addresses the potential for sustainability of these workforce development innovations and the policy implications that emerge from the comparison of collaboratives.

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