This morning is the start of the 2014 California Workforce Association (CWA) conference in San Diego. CWA is the leading association of workforce professionals in our state, and a main force for educating and professionalizing our field.

Regarding education, we have noted in recent years that workforce professionals can learn much not only from writings on labor economics, human resources, and industrial relations, but also from technology, contemporary literature and even popular culture (i.e. Mad Men, Enlightened, Silicon Valley).

In this vein, and as CWA members gather from throughout the state, there are several recent books by California authors outside of the workforce field that help us better understand the evolving job world. Let me highlight three:

carrielaneA Company of One by Carrie M. Lane: Ms. Lane is an associate professor of American Studies at California State University Fullerton. Her book, A Company of One: Insecurity, Independence and the New World of White Collar Unemployment (Cornell University Press, 2011) started as a study of corporate culture at tech firms following the bust–Ms. Lane has a background as an anthropologist.  She decided to focus on the tech world in Dallas, and soon found herself meeting a good number of unemployed tech workers, even as the economy improved. The book chronicles the lives of these workers, both in the workplace and beyond, as they transition into an employment world in which job instability is the norm. Much is said today in workforce circles about the loss of job security. This book helps us understand how this insecurity operates in the tech field and increasingly other white collar fields.

maynardwebbRebooting Work by Maynard Webb: Mr. Webb is one of our leading Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, the board chair of Yahoo!, board member of, former CEO & Chairman at LiveOps and COO at eBay. On one level, his book  Rebooting Work: Transform How You Work in the Age of Entrepreneurship (Jossey-Bass, 2013) follows in the path of other Silicon Valley books that advise us all to be entrepreneurs in our job careers, to adapt and pivot, to take control of careers.  But Webb is able to take the argument to a greater level of detail and subtlety, given his compelling personal story and his wealth of experience in building eBay and other tech businesses.

benhorowitzThe Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz: Mr. Horowitz is another of our most prominent California entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, a cofounder of Andreessen Horowitz and former CEO of Opsware, acquired by Hewlett-Packard for $1.6 billion in 2007.  His book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers (Harper Business, 2014) is on the surface a book aimed at the CEO of a major software firm or other major technology firm, and not related to the workforce field. Yet, Mr. Horowitz has wrestled and continues to wrestle with broader economic questions outside of technology.  His book and other writings have applicability far beyond the business advice genre.

All three books, by Californians outside of the workforce field, enrich our understanding our how to train and place Californians into jobs. Further, we gain insights on employment from our California  cultural historians and essayists—for one, Victor Davis Hanson and his writing on California’s Central Valley and agricultural sector.

A final word of congratulations to Bob Lanter, Nick Loret de Mola and the CWA crew. Another thoughtful CWA conference proving that job training and placement is a profession not a job.