Leadership spotlight: John Brauer

March 30, 2015

NSC Leadership Council member John Brauer of the California Labor Federation sheds light on his role as Executive Director of Workforce and Economic Development. In  the followingi interview he discusses California's sector-based strategies and upskilling initiatives.

Can you tell us a little about your professional background? What brought you to your position of Executive Director of Workforce and Economic Development at the California Federation of Labor?

I became introduced to the workforce field through my work as a staffperson  at the East Bay Conversion and Reinvestment Commission in 1995. There was a large construction project happening at that time at the Port of Oakland that included a project labor agreement requiring local hiring practices, so a number of community-based organizations and the local building trades council worked together to create a pre-apprenticeship pipeline. The labor agreement ended up extending over eight years, so I learned a great deal about the building and construction trades, how local joint labor-management apprenticeship programs operate, and the role that other stakeholders, namely CBOs and public agencies, could play. I really came to understand workforce development as a dual customer model for employers and jobseekers.

From that project, we formed a non-profit called The Workforce Collaborative, where I served as Executive Director for 11 years. The Workforce Collaborative focused on sector-based initiatives in construction, and eventually in trade, transportation logistics with employers and stakeholders, my experience at The Workforce Collaborative reinforced my interest and belief in regional, sector-based work. If we’re going to build a middle-class economy in California, labor has to be a part of that equation. My interest in being part of sector-based work on a larger scale with labor involvement, led me to the California Federation of Labor.

The California Labor Federation represents over 2 million union members across various industries including manufacturing, retails, construction, hospitality, healthcare and more. What are some of the challenges you face in your role as Executive Director, and what has been your proudest accomplishment?

The biggest challenge is the size and complexity of workforce development in a state as large and diverse as California.  Myself included, we only have five staff members so we really utilize the existing presence that our labor unions and central labor councils and within particular industries there is great variation by regions around the state. In manufacturing for instance, you have a large aerospace concentration in Los Angeles, versus the medical equipment manufacturing industry in the San Francisco Bay Area, versus food production manufacturing in the Central Valley.  And within these regions and industries, there’s a diverse set of occupations and employers. In addition to promoting high road  partnerships, we are the main labor entity dealing with rapid response and layoff aversion. We act as a resource for a large number of interests and needs of our affiliates in different areas of the state.

I’m proud to be a part of the revival of interest in apprenticeships and career technical education, particularly as we move beyond construction apprenticeship to include other sectors. Over the last year, we’ve been working with different labor unions on upskilling efforts to advance entry into particular kinds of work. One example is a pre-apprenticeship program that we’re working on up and down the state. We’re working with the California Department of Education to have the pre-apprentice curriculum meet the entrance requirements for the state university system. We’ve introduced the National Building Trades Multi-craft Core Curriculum  (MC3) to six different regional collaboratives, and nine different high schools.  We have also been supporting the frontline work with Unite-HERE and SEIU-USWW and worker centers to create upskilling capacity and workforce services for their members.

Recent initiatives from the White House such as UpSkill America aim to help frontline employees obtain new skills. What should the workforce development community do to make this mission a reality and keep the momentum going?

In relation to California, I think that the upskilling initiative has already gained some traction. We’re having regional discussions among our local adult schools, community colleges, and high schools to find new and innovative ways of creating apprenticeships. We’re working with labor unions to find ways to gain access to training tax dollars and use them to meet the needs of frontline workers, and it would be great to see more communities doing the same.

How has your partnership with NSC helped to advance your work in California, and how have you been able to inform NSC’s efforts?

NSC identifies best practices and policies, and points to what’s going on in DC and in other states. We use NSC’s research to help California’s Workforce Investment Board and other agencies on a range of issues, whether it’s upskilling, promoting adult basic education, or implementing existing programs like SNAP E&T. The work that come out of NSC gets heard because it makes sense to a variety of stakeholders such as labor, business, public agencies, to community colleges and beyond.  In turn, I hope to give NSC examples of some of the great work that labor is doing up and down the state of California that NSC can then take and promote. Folks from NSC have been attending our annual conference, one of the largest workforce conferences in the state of California, and there’s a mutual interest in continuing working together.