How we change the economy: Cultivating the next-generation workforce from within the valley

How we change the economy: Cultivating the next-generation workforce from within the valley

August 30, 2022 – As the new school year begins, it is clear that when our youth succeed, our community thrives. So, now, more than ever, we must double down in our efforts to engage students at a young age and cultivate the next-generation workforce from within our hometowns, equipping these students with the job skills, training and experience to not only develop meaningful careers, but a desire to remain in the Coachella Valley.

At OneFuture Coachella Valley, we are focused on creating a high-quality workforce by giving economically and educationally disadvantaged students an opportunity to be able to train for and secure the jobs that exist right now and will exist in the future in the Coachella Valley. Our partners provide internships to students who are in career academies throughout the valley’s three public school districts as well as some full-time and paid internships for undergraduates during the summer.

The results achieved in healthcare are an excellent example of the power of a common vision and commitment to regional coordination. With an aging and growing population, addressing crisis-level health workforce shortages is our shared responsibility.

Working in collaboration, health systems like Desert Care Network, Eisenhower Health, Desert Oasis Healthcare and Clinicas de Salud del Pueblo and Riverside University Health Systems have taken creative approaches to both meet their needs and provide career path opportunities to our youth. Further, community organizations like Coachella Valley Volunteers in Medicine, Alianza and Jewish Family Services provide necessary internships and mentoring for students who are first generation in their families to attend college and pursue higher-level health professions.

The hospitals in Desert Care Network, for example, have been an essential partner in OneFuture’s healthcare pipeline development program since 2005. The program introduces students in underserved communities to a profession that might otherwise remain a mystery. They learn about jobs in a variety of areas within the medical field, attend workshops to develop their skills and meet with healthcare professionals to learn about career paths in industries desperately in need of diversity and inclusion.

More than 25% of the U.S. population is of African American, Latino and American Indian descent, but they make up only 9% of the nation’s nurses and 6% of its physicians.

Thanks to the partnership between the OneFuture collaborative and local health employers, including Desert Care Network, that is changing in the Coachella Valley. In fact, more than 1,000 students, many of them from underserved populations, have had a chance to get early exposure to healthcare careers through the Career Exploration program that Desert Regional pioneered.

Cristal Salcido is a prime example of how OneFuture is cultivating young minds and providing them with mentorship and connections that keep them in the Valley.

OneFuture awarded Cristal, a La Quinta High School graduate, a scholarship for all five years of her undergraduate education, and also offered her a job while in college that helped her develop the skills she needed to succeed as both a student and as an emerging professional. The connections she made helped support her throughout her journey, and this year, she will graduate with her doctor of naturopathic medicine (ND) degree and hopes to ultimately open her own practice in the eastern Coachella Valley.

Since 2010, OneFuture scholars have earned 537 degrees in health majors, including 39 master’s degrees, 11 doctoral degrees and 131 nursing degrees. In addition, OneFuture and its partners have placed 250 undergraduates in paid summer internships in healthcare — a retention strategy that reconnects them to the Coachella Valley during the summer.

Amazingly, more than 51% of these scholars remain right here in Coachella Valley to serve the community in which they grew up.

At OneFuture, we believe in the power of partnership to unlock the talent of our youth. Desert Care Network is one example; there are more and we invite others to join us.

Sheila Thornton has been the president/CEO of OneFuture Coachella Valley since 2017 and is a former member of the California Future Health Workforce Commission. Email her at Sandy Lyon is the Board Chair of OneFuture Coachella Valley and the recently retired superintendent of Palm Springs Unified School District.

Special to The Desert Sun