Tony Young has seen much change and growth in San Diego in his lifetime and during his career.
The 57-year-old product of Southeast San Diego and graduate of Howard University and the University of San Diego, was a political heavyweight in San Diego, serving as a City Council member and overseeing District 4 from 2005-13.
Once policy advisor for County Supervisor Leon Williams, he also spent several years teaching in the San Diego Unified School District.
In 2012, he was appointed as the CEO of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Red Cross, and in 2014 founded the governmental consulting firm Civic Link Strategies and simultaneously started the nonprofit, RISE San Diego, dedicated to urban leadership in San Diego.
The San Diego Business Journal asked Young to share some of his thoughts on workforce development and being part of the San Diego Workforce Partnership, where in 2023 he was named interim president and CEO.
The final hiring decision will be made by the SDWP Board of Directors in the early part of this year. Young said he is a candidate for the permanent position, and says he hopes “to be able to enact more meaningful change for the organization and communities we serve.”
Young said this is a pivotal moment for the SDWP and the workforce development initiative as a whole in the state of California.
“While federal investments create new possibilities, funding alone won’t fix systemic barriers holding back untapped talent,” Young said. “We need more local partnerships, employer commitments, and community-informed solutions to build an equitable, resilient workforce. If I’m asked to serve as President and CEO of the San Diego Workforce Partnership, I will be honored to be able to continue the momentum we’ve created in the last six months as the organization and talented team drives to make significant progress to achieve those goals.”
Some of Young’s answers have been edited for brevity.
How and when did you come to be interim President and CEO of the San Diego Workforce Partnership?
After being confirmed by both the Consortium Policy Board and the Workforce Development Board, I was appointed Interim President and CEO in July 2023. I’ve always been fascinated by the San Diego Workforce Partnership because of its corporate structure driven by a focus on community-oriented training and services. I had significant experience working with programs that were funded by the SDWP. Given my background in public policy, familiarity with the organization from serving on the Board of Directors, and experience with workforce development issues, the Board of Directors asked me to serve as interim President and CEO.
In just six months, the organization is now stable and looking to the future. I’m proud of the accomplishments we’ve achieved together, including garnering $9.1 million in grants from diverse funding sources that will support our programming efforts; expand partnerships and enacting organizational change while increasing SDWP’s DEI initiatives to help job seekers in all our local communities.
What were your initial thoughts in being named interim President and CEO?
I felt both humbled and energized by this responsibility and opportunity to give back. My goal is to provide steady leadership to the organization through a period of transition. At the end of the day, my focus is on deepening the SDWP’s connections to community and industry, and making sure those we serve feel like we’re partners working together towards the same goal, which is a strong workforce in San Diego. Every day, I am blessed to be surrounded by a talented, inspired group of individuals who are dedicated to our mission-driven work.
What does the SDWP do? Who does it serve?
The SDWP is dedicated to helping all San Diegans find gainful employment while meeting the employment needs of local businesses and industries. This includes individuals receiving public assistance, people experiencing homelessness, veterans, youth, justice-involved individuals and other groups with barriers to employment.
Why is the SDWP important for San Diego County?
A skilled workforce is the backbone of a strong regional economy. By providing job training, career readiness services, and employer services and connections, we’re helping to develop talent to meet the labor demands of critical industries like healthcare, IT, advanced manufacturing and construction. The workforce and demand for our workforce is changing, and we need to reevaluate how we prepare individuals for the workplace. Our partnership methodology collaborates with government, industry, community leaders and nonprofit organizations to support San Diego’s workforce from all angles.
What have been some of your challenges as your sixth month as interim CEO of the SDWP comes?
The challenge is to assist individuals by identifying and providing critical training needed to meet and match the needs of the current labor market. We must be creative in cultivating untapped talent, especially with individuals in historically marginalized communities. We have a workforce population that’s still transitioning out of the global pandemic into today’s new world of remote work or integrating back into the workspace. We also need to support employers in implementing retention strategies in a competitive hiring environment.
What are some of your memorable accomplishments during your time at the San Diego Workforce Partnership?
I’m proud that, in just six months, the organization has secured more than $9 million in grant awards to support our programs for job seekers and businesses; streamlined the organization’s operations; expanded our community partnerships; and increased our targeted outreach efforts to benefit the region’s economy, businesses, and job seekers from all backgrounds. We’ve also achieved a 23% increase in job seeker applications (July through December 2023) when compared to the same time (the previous) year. This shows that we’re truly connecting with more people as we help them achieve gainful employment, and that is a very good thing for the economic health of our region.
SDWP was recently awarded $4.8 million from the California Workforce Development Board. What is the funding for?
We are grateful to have received nearly $5 million from the California Workforce Development Board as part of the state’s larger Helping Justice-Involved Reentry Employment Initiative. We’re allocating this funding to support nine different local nonprofits dedicated to assisting individuals affected by incarceration such as Women Initiating Success Envisioned, which helps women rebuild their lives after leaving prison. We’re hoping this innovative approach sets a trend by enhancing the effectiveness and efficiency of non-profits without unnecessary competition for resources.
What are your immediate and long-term goals for the San Diego Workforce Partnership?
Immediately, I want to say how grateful I am to be working alongside such a talented team as we continue to provide real-time, tangible services for job seekers throughout our region and help them meet the employment needs of our local businesses. Long-term, I’m looking forward to engaging all our stakeholders in a visionary strategic planning process for the organization through funding support from the Irvine Foundation. Additionally, I want to expand our public-private partnerships to align training programs with hiring demand and career pathways to benefit all of San Diegans.
What are your hopes for the person who is chosen to lead the SD Workforce Partnership?
We need to continue to leverage the power of collaboration to tackle persistent equity gaps in education and employment facing communities of color and other marginalized groups. We also need bold, compassionate leadership to ensure economic growth is inclusive. I am confident in my abilities to continue my effective tenure and hope to be selected for the job.
What are you seeing trending in the workforce in San Diego and nationwide?
On Jan. 19, the San Diego Workforce Partnership is co-hosting San Diego County’s 40th Annual Economic Roundtable together with local leaders and our partners at University of San Diego. We’re bringing together San Francisco Federal Reserve President Mary Daly and top experts to discuss latest trends for our wider region’s economic landscape and its impact on our workers and businesses.
Right now, in San Diego, we’re seeing the need for middle-skill workers in healthcare, IT, manufacturing, construction and more, which means we have much work to do. These living-wage jobs don’t require a four-year degree but provide tremendous opportunity for economic mobility. We need to expand earn-and-learn models like apprenticeships. I’m also seeing increased focus from policy leaders and employers on supporting family-sustaining jobs to address household financial instability.