Employment and Jobs

Partnering with California State To Respond to Crises

July 21, 2022  • Economic Opportunities Program & Peter Callstrom

Peter Callstrom, President and CEO, San Diego Workforce Partnership

Photo of Peter Callstrom

The pandemic’s impacts on the economy have been devastating for millions of workers and businesses, particularly in the restaurant industry. At the same time, the pandemic created a rise in food insecurity as low-wage workers across industries struggled to put food on the table.

In California, a few workforce boards including the San Diego Workforce Partnership (SDWP) partnered with the state to respond to these crises. SDWP collaborated with local partners to implement High Road Kitchens, an initiative of One Fair Wage and the State of California that provides meals to essential workers on a sliding scale. The program is one of many strategies SDWP has tested to address job quality by offering subsidies to the restaurants providing the meals if they follow equitable practices and pay a living wage. In addition to fostering job quality, this creates jobs for restaurant workers and helps restaurants stay open. SDWP also blended public sector funding to support workers’ skills development. “This initiative benefits our entire community, local restaurants, and their employees and customers, as well as essential workers. In this time of great need, these small businesses are able to take care of our region’s first responders and low-wage workers. Participating restaurants also set a standard for job quality including livable wages, good benefits, and advancement opportunities,” said Peter Callstrom, president and CEO of the SDWP.

As a workforce development board, SDWP funds, oversees, and delivers a wide variety of targeted workforce programs. The partnership helps provide services to over 50 thousand job seekers each year – the majority of whom are women or people of color. SDWP has generated employment and internships in the tech sector, provided innovative online platforms that engage youth and adults to explore labor market information, and implemented a young adult internship and employment program that reaches thousands of young adults annually with work readiness and job placement services.

Peter says SDWP’s work is centered around job quality, inclusive business growth, and diversity, equity, and inclusion, which are supported by population-specific strategies to address inequities, and outcomes-based financing that ties funding to results. As a large funder and provider of services to employers and community-based organizations throughout the region, SDWP is uniquely positioned to lead and influence on job quality and equity.

SDWP has adopted an experimentative approach to improving job quality, improving upon what works and sharing its failures and successes. The partnership has developed and experimented with a number of tools, resources, and strategies such as High Road Kitchens. Peter says, “We have embraced job quality and worked to advance the understanding and adoption of the principles in our community, among our own staff, and in our field. As a large and very diverse workforce board in terms of demographics as well as services, we have more capacity than many to test, iterate and advance ideas.” SDWP’s experimentative work is built into services for workers and businesses. For example, the organization released a report on how workers and businesses benefit from employee ownership and conducted workshops for businesses who were interested in learning about converting to employee ownership.

Tools to Support Integrate Job Quality and Workforce Development Strategies

SDWP has funded a number of job quality pilots with its business partners. The experiments have tested strategies examining whether sign-on bonuses and continuing education affect retention, if leadership development for caregivers improves worker agency, and if wellness stipends can increase job satisfaction and employee engagement, among others. SDWP relies on the experiences and voices of the workers who participated to measure the success of its experiments. Through these experiments and other engagement and partnerships with workers and businesses, SDWP developed a job quality framework and created a guide for the field, “How to Build Job Quality Into Your Workforce Development Approach.”

The guide includes a sample framework and indicators for thinking about and measuring job quality. The toolkit also includes a simple guide for users to devise their own framework. SDWP promotes job quality within the organizations it contracts and funds and has provided its contract and procurement language as tools so others can build job quality metrics into their contracts and procurement. Other tools and resources encourage innovations in how workforce organizations work with businesses on job quality, including resources to promote employee ownership and a tool to help organizations explore Income Share Agreements, an innovative way to fund low cost post-secondary education for workers that results in a ‘Renewable Fund’ through payback from participants who succeed. Additional tools also promote outcome-based financing, improve worker voice, and use data to benchmark performance in providing quality jobs.

SDWP’s job quality work is intertwined with efforts to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). “As long as racial, ethnic, and gender inequality persists, we cannot realize our vision for an economy in which every business has access to a skilled workforce and every job seeker has access to meaningful employment. We cannot create inclusive economic growth without addressing the discriminatory practices holding back many businesses and workers. We focus on targeted, outcomes-focused interventions to increase access to quality jobs,” Peter stated.

SDWP created its DEI Center to share resources, thought pieces, and more. A DEI committee made up of SDWP’s board is another mechanism Peter and his SDWP colleagues are using to drive and champion equity. Peter, who has led nonprofit organizations in the San Diego region since 1986 – including services to people with disabilities, people experiencing homelessness, and underrepresented job seekers – is also a member of the California Worker Equity Initiative, which shapes policy and strategy recommendations for the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency.

Peter understands the work on equity and job quality is not easy and there are no silver bullets. SDWP’s experimentative approach is rooted in learning from failure and a long-term commitment to systems change. As Peter says, “Defining, advancing, and measuring job quality is possible, but it takes a lot of perseverance, listening, collaborating, and iterating to see through. We must take job quality from a talking point to real-world application. Too often, I see job quality cited, but with no clarity, support, application, or accountability. I’m excited about this work and hopeful that we can advance the thought leadership to ensure that this critical work continues to advance and support our entire workforce.”


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Partnering with California State To Respond to Crises: A Profile of #JobQuality Fellow @PeterACallstrom, President and CEO @sdworkforce.

[email protected] works to advance #jobquality, inclusive business growth, and diversity, equity, and inclusion, and it serves over 50k people each year – most of whom are women or people of color. Read more in this profile of President/CEO @PeterACallstrom.

During the pandemic, @sdworkforce (led by @PeterACallstrom) partnered with the State of California and @onefairwage to implement High Road Kitchens, which subsidizes restaurants focused on #jobquality and equity to give meals to essential workers.

“We cannot create inclusive economic growth without addressing the discriminatory practices holding back many businesses and workers.”  #JobQuality Fellow @PeterACallstrom, President and CEO @sdworkforce.

“Defining, advancing, and measuring #jobquality is possible, but it takes a lot of perseverance, listening, collaborating, and iterating to see through. We must take job quality from a talking point to real-world application.” @PeterACallstrom @sdworkforce


Learn more

Peter Callstrom is a member of the Aspen Institute’s Job Quality Fellowship, Class of 2022-23. The Job Quality Fellowship is convened by the Economic Opportunities Program.

The Economic Opportunities Program advances strategies, policies, and ideas to help low- and moderate-income people thrive in a changing economy. Follow us on social media and join our mailing list to stay up-to-date on publications, blog posts, events, and other announcements.