By Ken Magri
For more than 45 years, the Sacramento Employment and Training Agency has succeeded in helping local residents find jobs. Now, a $5 million grant awarded from the State of California will soon enable SETA to better reach its employment goals as it facilitates a new workforce program called Public Pathways.
The Public Pathways program is specifically aimed at building careers in the public, business, biotechnology, health care and social services sectors. It can qualify prospective employees by offering them training, certifications, enrollment into postsecondary education and employment counseling if needed.
The grant was awarded to SETA by the California Workforce Development Board, a state program initiated by Gov. Gavin Newsom. While the $5 million can be used by SETA at its discretion, the grant’s main emphasis centers around its Public Pathways program and preparing job-seekers for Aggie Square, a project being built on the UC Davis campus in Sacramento.
The Aggie Square Project
Aggie Square will be a combined complex of medical, research, residential and office facilities, expanding the UC Davis Medical Center, and providing economic development opportunities to the Oak Park neighborhood in particular.
Groundbreaking on the first phase of Aggie Square began in 2022 and is scheduled to be completed winter 2025. This is a $1.1 billion fund for the first two buildings, biotechnology labs totaling 1.2 million square feet, to be constructed by the developer Wexford Science & Technology, LLC, which specializes in these kinds of high-tech buildings.
UC Davis has promised that 20% of jobs for Aggie Square will be set aside for people in the immediate neighborhood who have been traditionally underserved. It has also promised additional funding to prevent any gentrification that might raise home prices due to an influx of residents to nearby neighborhoods.
The Public Pathway program will help create an Aggie Square workforce, qualifying people for current and future employment in a wide range of jobs that become available as the project evolves. While the building phase continues, the initial jobs created are in construction. After that, jobs in sectors like health care, research and technology become the main hiring need.
What does SETA do?
SETA is a staffing agency that connects employers who have specific employment needs with matching candidates that can fulfill those needs. Referred to as a joint powers agency, it is a stand-alone organization created in 1978 by both the city and county of Sacramento.
The people SETA serves through its community outreach are individuals who experience barriers to employment. Barriers such as language, homelessness, having been formerly incarcerated or a refugee, prevent some Sacramentans from entering the workforce. To break through these barriers, SETA oversees a variety of wraparound services, like preschool programs, internship programs and support efforts for job-seekers experiencing one or more of these barriers to employment.
SETA’s Sacramento Works program helps businesses find qualified workers, and will even train them if necessary. Through its network of 13 job centers throughout Sacramento County, anyone seeking a job is welcome to drop in and use computers or fax machines, workshopresumes, attend employment workshops and receive individual assistance.
“The Job Centers serve over 30,000 job seekers per year. Over 92% of prospects have one or more significant barriers to employment,” said D’et Saurbourne, SETA’s interim director. Saurborne added the centers service underserved populations with the following barriers: 7% homeless, 13% with a disability, 11% as English language learners, 38% who are on public assistance and 79% low income.
“We fund [Community Based Organizations] and school districts to run 11 job centers for us, and we operate two of them,” said Roy Kim, SETA’S deputy director in charge of workforce development. “In the most recent year, our job center programs had a 71.3% employment rate.”. SETA’s job centers are open to the public on a drop-in basis.
SETA’s regional Veterans’ Energy Employment Project provides assistance for eligible veterans interested in the manufacturing or healthcare industries. The SETA Refugee program provides social and employment services to individuals who meet the program’s criteria. Services include English classes, on-the-job training and social orientation for workers adjusting to a new culture.
SETA also operates a Head Start preschool program for low-income Sacramentans. By providing child development and school readiness services, including education, health and nutrition, the program provides working low-income parents with enriching child care options.
These wraparound services offer more personalized assistance than one might receive from a local government employment agency like the Employment Development Department that is not considering employment barriers in the way SETA is. SETA’s main objective is to meet people where they are, and get them to where they need to be.
A big reason for SETA’s success comes from the many partnerships it’s formed with other groups to create a holistic approach. SETA’s partnerships include private businesses, food banks, women’s groups, international agencies, adult education centers, mental health clinics and housing organizations, to name a few.
It starts with engaging with the community and assessing what their needs are. “Partnerships and collaborations are critical to the success of SETA’s programs,” said Kim.
“The partnerships at Aggie Square can be a role model for what’s to come, for the ability to replicate, in a more targeted way, other areas and transform these communities,” said Jennifer Hernandez, who departed Sept. 15 as SETA’s executive director for another position outside the organization.
Once Aggie Square’s biggest employment needs have been determined, SETA will construct a series of partnerships to implement the education and training that applicants will need for those jobs.
“I’m thrilled to see SETA’s $5 million investment into the Aggie Square workforce program,” said Sacramento City Councilmember Caity Maple, who represents the Oak Park community, in a press release. “With this funding, we can accelerate programming that provides career-ready jobs with good wages at regional employers like UC Davis.”
This story is part of the Solving Sacramento journalism collaborative. Solving Sacramento is supported by funding from the James Irvine Foundation and Solutions Journalism Network. Our partners include California Groundbreakers, Capital Public Radio, Outword, Russian America Media, Sacramento Business Journal, Sacramento News & Review, Sacramento Observer and Univision 19.