Over the past 33 years, job-training programs have come and gone in California. Some, such as the state California Worksite Education and Training Act (CWETA) were funded as pilots for a few years, but not extended. Others, such as the federal Job Training Partnership Act were restructured under new titles (the Workforce Investment Act).   But there is one program that has continued from the early 1980s to the present largely intact, the Employment Training Panel (ETP); and today its financial health and reach are greater than ever.

knox, stewart

ETP was established at a time of rapidly rising unemployment, and emerging concerns about a “deindustrialization” future for California. The state unemployment rate increased steadily from 7% in January 1980 to 11% by December 1982. Between 1980 and 1982, over one hundred manufacturing facilities closed in California, including major automobile, steel, and food processing plants.

ETP, championed by a young legislator, Assemblyman Patrick Johnston, and established by Governor Jerry Brown in 1982, was to promote job growth in all sectors, and especially in manufacturing, by helping employers undertake the job training that they, not the government, saw as valuable. ETP was also a response to the growing concern in Sacramento about income inequality. Today the issues of income inequality, a “declining middle” of jobs, and low wage jobs with limited mobility, are often presented as new issues in California. Each of these issues was on the legislative agenda in 1982, and contributed to ETP’s establishment.

Mr. Stewart Knox (above) has been the ETP director since Fall 2014. He brings to the position a rich body of experience in local education and job training in California, especially in our rural areas. After graduation from Chico State in 1994, his first job was as an Adult Education instructor, teaching laid-off timber workers in Tehama, and he subsequently served as job placement staff with the workforce center in Tehama. During the 1990s and early 2000s, he held a series of positions as Workforce Investment Board (WIB) director first in Verdugo, and later with the North Central Counties Consortum, NoRTEC and San Mateo County.

With his background in local job training, Mr. Knox emphasizes practical outcomes in terms of skills gains and placements. ETP from the start has been employer-focused. Any project funded must have an employer committing to hire or retain workers. Further, a good part of the payment for each training is held back until training metrics are achieved.

For the 2015-2016 fiscal year, the ETP board has approved a budget of $90.5 million near the largest ever, and well above the levels of the early 2000s. The training projects recently funded by ETP range among sectors and occupations, though ETP staffs are particularly attuned to the growth and viability of California’s manufacturing sector.

In the most recent monthly meeting on June 26, the ETP board approved training contacts with several manufacturers and related blue-collar employers, including ICON Aircraft, BAE Systems San Diego Ship Repair, and Nor-Cal Beverage Company. ICON Aircraft, a designer and manufacturer of light sports aircraft founded in 2006, is opening a new 140,000 square feet facility in Vacaville. ICON committed to hiring 222 new employees, and sought (and received) funding for training in its new production techniques.

BAE Systems repairs marine vessels for government and commercial customers. It is expanding in San Diego, and anticipates hiring 500 new employees in the next two years. It received funding to train its new workforce, and also to upgrade skills of its incumbent workforce. Nor-Cal Beverage Co, a manufacturer of teas, chilled juices and energy drinks, based in West Sacramento, received funds to train 40 new employees at its Anaheim production facility.

Mr. Barry Broad, Sacramento-based attorney, is the ETP Chair and senior Panel member, appointed and re-appointed since 2001. He notes that projects like the ones above have enabled ETP to be above ideology and politics. He explains, “The Employment Training Panel has had the good fortune to be a consensus program, strongly supported both by employers and organized labor. As a result, it has completely avoided being drawn into partisan political debate. Its benefit to California workers, their employers and the health of the economy in general is undeniable.”


Looking forward, Mr. Knox points to several new directions that ETP is pursuing including a response to lay-offs linked to the ongoing drought, the related development of a Water Energy Technology program, and additional Regional Collaborations. ETP is also pursuing initiatives for targeted populations (Veterans, TANF recipients foster youth).

But, while diversifying, ETP is likely to continue its largely unglamorous bread-and-butter training model. This model ties training to specific job openings and wage gains, and limits payments to training agencies to placement performance. It’s the main reason that ETP has outlived so many other job programs.