"Hooked at the Roots" - Making Connections at the California Workforce Association Spring Conference

Apr 23, 2011

CWA Conference Bag
CWA Spring Conference

It's Spring in San Diego and that means three things: sunshine, baseball, and the Spring Caifornia Workforce Association Conference! (Yes, I'm from Oregon - there are plenty of folks from Nevada, Texas, and Washington participating, too). Having spent two days working and learning with west coast friends and colleagues, we asked a CWA trio of Friday-morning early risers about their key takeway points, and added a few of our own. 

  • The conference theme, Hooked at the Roots, was important and effective as a framework thinking about our ever-more interdependent work. Charles ("Gus") Whalen, Jr., Chairman of the Warren Fatherbone Company and author of Hooked at the Roots, a book documenting the company's evolution and commitment to community, made an impression with his colorful quips, quotes, and wise observations. (We liked the simple but profound - "Know why you do what you do.")
  • Barbara Halsey, the new Executive Director of the California Workforce Association, welcomed attendees with an invitation to exchange "meaningful ideas" during our time together. The folks we spoke with took this message to heart. Many communities are in trouble - too few jobs, too many people looking for them, skills mismatches, firms unable to access capital, integrate new technologies, or find talent, and the deeply troubling growth of poverty and other social ills together with a decline in the resources available to address these needs. Workforce and economic development professionals, educators, and others in the "jobs" business can face difficulty finding new (and better?) ways to meet these needs in the context of increasing (and increasingly complex) demand.
  • We helped each other find ways to learned to do what we call "working out loud." For some, this means using social media to engage with the colleagues, peers, partners, and clients. For others, it means, engaging a broader range of citizens in the development of policy and the design of programs. The field is taking tiny steps in this direction, but interest is high. Thanks to Celina Shands Gradijan at Full Capacity Marketing, Erin Hart and Tamara Murray at Fenton Communications, and the CWA team, especially Victoria Melshaw who, in addition to designing the lovely conference collateral, also posted general goings-on to the CWA Facebook page throughout the conference. Full disclosure: our team did a lot of tweeting under the hashtag #CWA11.
  • We heard murmuring about some serious concerns, too: "We can't just continue to do more with less."... "There's too much effort being put into preventing disaster and not nearly enough into figuring out how to deliver clear value to our communities - even if that means doing different things than we do now." ... John Baker shared his knowledge about engaging legislators. Others suggested it was time to find new legislators who are interested in jobs, talent, and communities. There is clearly a need for workforce leaders to set a new course.

As past participants in a few CWA conferences, we felt the agenda was strong - and the sessions we attended were high-quality.

We extend: thank-yous to CWA staff and conference planners for orchestrating such a great event; congratulations to Wendy Frederick (Riverside County Economic Development Agency) on winning the 2011 Professional of the Year Award; and a happy thumbs up to Emily Shepherd for the terrific graphic facilitation which made those large, theater-style sessions colorful and engaging, even when the content was hard.


  • Our photos form the conference.
  • Combined tweets; our tweets (a problem with search engine prevents combining today)
  • Our presentation materials (for those in our session) on slideshare.