Milpitas Initiative Targets Workforce Development

The City of Milpitas won the Award for Excellence in the Community Services and Economic Development category of the 2018 Helen Putnam Award for Excellence program. For more about the award program, visit www.helenputnam.org.


Milpitas has an employment paradox. Despite having one of the lowest unemployment rates in California and its perfect location in the heart of Silicon Valley, this diverse city (pop. 74,865) has found that a significant segment of its population has not benefited from the post-recession economic boom. Even as more and more millennials are entering the job market for high-tech and service industries, local manufacturing companies have had difficulty attracting qualified young people to join the workforce.

In response, the city created the Milpitas Workforce Development Initiative to address the growing employment gap by connecting youth with local manufacturing and high-paying jobs.

The initiative started in 2016 when Milpitas joined with the Milpitas Unified School District, a local high-tech manufacturing services company, Evergreen Valley College and NextFlex (America’s Flexible Hybrid Electronics Manufacturing Institute) to launch a four-week entrepreneurship program that introduces high school students to the vast range of professional opportunities in advanced manufacturing and corrects misperceptions about careers and growth in the manufacturing sector.

Program Is Tailored to Needs of Youth and Employers

Known as FlexFactor, the program begins with an all-day field trip to facilities in Milpitas that exposes students to the world of advanced high-tech manufacturing. A follow-up field trip to Evergreen Valley College includes a campus tour, an introduction to the automotive technology center and an overview of the college application process.

Throughout the program, each team of students is matched with a local mentor who helps them achieve their project milestones, developing product ideas and business models while promoting their active engagement with the professional workforce. The teams’ final deliverable is a five-minute “Shark Tank-style” pitch where they present their ideas to a panel of business representatives. FlexFactor concludes by providing information about post-course opportunities, including paid summer internships, financial counseling and college credits.

Building on the initiative’s momentum, the City of Milpitas reaffirmed its commitment to growing a qualified local workforce in October 2017 by partnering with the Milpitas Unified School District to create the community’s first Manufacturing Day with the goal of helping Milpitas-based manufacturers address the shortage of skilled labor. Three local businesses opened their doors to more than 100 students, educators, elected officials, business professionals and media and community representatives. The event enabled these businesses to connect with their future workforce, enhance the public image of manufacturing and strengthen ongoing prosperity.

Activities for Manufacturing Day included a tour of manufacturing facilities in cleanroom suits at a firm that specializes in process control for the semiconductor and related industries; learning about the advanced equipment and production at a company that provides design, engineering, manufacturing and logistics services to companies of all sizes; and hands-on training on medical devices for complex medical procedures at a firm that develops and manufactures devices for medical diagnostics and intervention.

“Both FlexFactor and Manufacturing Day enable local companies to show students that there are high-paying careers in advanced manufacturing,” says Council Member Bob Nuñez. “The City of Milpitas and its partners have been creative and effective in connecting manufacturers and the workforce of the future.”

Building on Success

The students who have participated in the Milpitas Workforce Development Initiative agree the program was well worth their time. Participants from both programs expressed more awareness of manufacturing jobs in their community, greater certainty that manufacturing provides interesting and rewarding careers, increased motivation to pursue careers in manufacturing and more willingness to tell their friends, family, parents or colleagues about manufacturing.

“Milpitas is unique in part because the city’s leadership and staff understand the tremendous impact that our partnership has on our youth and their families. The nucleus of the city’s work is focused on enhancing a strong sense of connection among the members of our community,” says Milpitas Unified School District Superintendent Cheryl Jordan. “The heart of Milpitas is its people, and our city leaders strive to keep the community’s interests at the core of all decisions. I believe our children will have a better future in Milpitas because the spirit of collaboration is evident in city programs that elevate their learning experiences.”

“As we start the third iteration of the Milpitas Workforce Development Initiative, we are expanding our partnerships by collaborating with more Milpitas-based manufacturers, our schools and colleges and our regional workforce development board,” says Steve McHarris, Milpitas deputy city manager who oversees economic and community development.

The initiative’s collaborative approach extends to the support and funding needed to back the effort. NextFlex funded the FlexFactor program, and the City of Milpitas led the Manufacturing Day program, which was underwritten by its community partners. The Embassy Suites by Hilton Milpitas-Silicon Valley funded the Manufacturing Day lunch and Wettenstein Insurance, a Milpitas-based business, purchased the Manufacturing Day banner. The City of Milpitas funded an ice-cream truck that provided sundaes and hand-dipped cones to all student participants, at a cost of $475. The city staff spent a minimal amount of time coordinating activities with the initiative partners.

Positioning the Future Workforce

Silicon Valley continues to create, disrupt and replace technologies and job descriptions at a dizzying pace, which means that communities, employees and job seekers must be adaptable and prepared to meet new opportunities and requirements. The Milpitas Workforce Development Initiative connects nonprofits, schools and manufacturing companies with the workers of the future. The initiative has opened a pathway for students to gain job training in advanced manufacturing, receive academic credit while doing so and then enter a high-wage career — without a college degree.

“Our goal is to advance the long-term economic vitality for the Milpitas community by providing more opportunities through training services and internships for students who might not choose college but who want to develop their interests and skills for advanced manufacturing,” says Mayor Rich Tran.

By connecting youth with employers, Milpitas supports economic resilience that benefits businesses and residents. Higher-paying jobs and economic diversity are desirable results, but keeping the city attractive for business expansion, relocations and entrepreneurs makes workforce development a long-term economic strategy for Milpitas, especially when unemployment rates are low.

Both FlexFactor and Manufacturing Day are workforce development programs that can be replicated, adapted and applied in other communities. Although every city’s situation is unique, the power of partnership and commitment to creativity can address job creation, job retention, tax base enhancements, resident opportunities and quality of life in any community.

Contact: Daniel Degu, economic development coordinator, City of Milpitas; email: ddegu@ci.milpitas.ca.gov; phone: (408) 586-3054.


Photo Credit: Courtesy of the City of Milpitas and League of California Cities.