Lynda and Stewart Resnick want their Wonderful Co. to produce more than pomegranates and pistachios.
The $4 billion agricultural company, whose portfolio includes POM Wonderful pomegranates, Fiji Water, and floral delivery service Teleflora, is hoping to convince other companies to follow its lead in creating a high school program to develop skilled workers at a symposium Oct. 13 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.
About 50 executives from companies such as W Hotels are expected to attend the Careers Pathway Lab, which organizers said will address the gap between jobs available and workers’ skills that some experts say could hit the state by 2025.
Jobs for the Future, a nonprofit advocacy group, and Linked Learning Alliance, a statewide high school initiative based in Sacramento, are co-hosting the invite-only program, which will feature Lynda Resnick; Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of public instruction; and Eloy Oakley, the incoming chancellor of California’s community college system.
Resnick will discuss how Wonderful, along with two of the other largest farms in the Central Valley, Grimmway Farms and Olam International, developed Wonderful Agriculture Career Prep, a program funded with almost $19 million in state grants through local school districts. It allows students at seven participating schools in the Central Valley to take college community classes so that they can transfer to a four-year college or start a $35,000- to $50,000-a-year job at Wonderful, which has 7,800 employees worldwide.
The grant was from a state fund, the California Career Pathways Trust, established in 2014 to distribute $500 million to state schools to promote technical career education.
“When we were awarded the Career Pathways grant, the state asked us to share our model,” said Dr. Noemi Donoso, senior vice president of education initiatives at Wonderful. “We said, What if we invite other business leaders to hear about the model? It’s an excellent opportunity to hear a fellow CEO sharing why she does this, hoping to inspire other executives to start partnerships.”
Despite the Wonderful program’s focus on agriculture, the idea can be transferred to other industries, said Donoso.
Dr. Barbara Staggers, executive director of the Center for Community Health and Engagement at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, will discuss the hospital’s internship program that allows students to shadow mentors, for example.
Chauncy Lennon, managing director and head of workforce initiatives in global philanthropy at JPMorgan Chase, will talk about his company’s $75 million New Skills for Youth initiative to expand skills-based education.
The organizers sought out high-ranking executives as attendees to effect change at the highest level, according to Steven Clark, the vice president of corporate communications at Wonderful.
“I think why (our program) has been so successful is the force behind it comes straight from the top, which we’re trying to impart to our partners,” said Clark.
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