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Mark Cafferty

Workforce Partnership executive director getting people back to work

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It is a good thing that Mark Cafferty likes a challenge. Because since June of 2008 -- in the midst one of the worst economies since the Great Depression -- he has been responsible for helping San Diegans get back to work, serving as the executive director of the San Diego Workforce Partnership.

With programs ranging from job seeker services delivered at four One Stop Career Centers to special employment programs for gang-involved youth and veterans, Cafferty knows that thousands of unemployed San Diegans count on his team to help them find good jobs. And as the leader of an organization that this year will steward more than $37 million in public funds, he remembers daily that this is a “huge responsibility ... we must always work to ensure public trust.”

In leading the agency, Cafferty regularly draws on his early experience as a direct service worker in some of Boston’s toughest neighborhoods.

While Cafferty’s first job after college was as a corporate headhunter, he soon realized that while he liked helping people transition into careers, he needed something more. Already volunteering in a Boston public school, he jumped at the chance to take a job helping disadvantaged young people connect with careers.

More than 15 years later, he is still driven by the belief that the “public work force system needs to focus on the individuals who need our support the most and are least prepared to navigate the new economy.”

Not surprisingly, one of the initiatives Cafferty is most proud of is a program for young people, the Summer Hire-A-Youth initiative. For the past two years, more than 3,000 16- to 24-year-olds have had the opportunity to work in summer jobs in dozens of different industry sectors including biotechnology, education and hospitality.

While much of the federal stimulus dollars that supported this program are going away, Cafferty is excited that “partners around the community, including businesses, local government and community organizations, see this as something not to lose and are committed to seeing it continue.”

Cafferty describes the local work force environment as one where there are “lots of pieces,” and as his job, and the job of the Workforce Partnership, is to “put those pieces together.”

Whether that means working to pipeline highly trained veterans with medical skills into local health care jobs or working with area employers to provide on-the-job training so that employee skills keep pace with the 21st century economy, Cafferty keeps his eye on the prize -- a growing economy that benefits all.

Bouris is a San Diego-based freelance writer.

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