Home Podcast Advancing San Diego’s Workforce with Kate Gallagher & Rachel Merfalen

Advancing San Diego’s Workforce with Kate Gallagher & Rachel Merfalen

by Neal Bloom

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The San Diego tech scene is flourishing more than ever, with growing tech companies and a new program upskilling local talent to help keep up with the explosive growth. 

In this episode, Neal Bloom discusses Advancing San Diego, a talent training and placement program, and much more, with guests Kate Gallagher, Senior Manager of Economic Development at San Diego Regional EDC, and Rachel Merfalen, Director of Business Services at San Diego Workforce Partnership

3:33 SD Workforce Partnership’s mission is to empower local talent to fulfill the needs of San Diego employers. As San Diego builds its reputation as a leading tech hub based around collaboration and innovation, SD Workforce Partnership aims to continue bringing funds into the region in order to foster problem solving around workforce needs, among other things.

5:36 The San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation (EDC), which is centered around scouting out talent is a privately funded nonprofit organization whose goal is to support and promote San Diego’s economy by providing a variety of services to local businesses and raising awareness of the region’s many offerings.

7:49 Advancing San Diego is a three-year project funded by JP Morgan Chase, and part of its AdvancingCities initiative. The initiative’s mission is to promote inclusive economies, shifting the relationship between industry and education. With the rapid growth of San Diego’s innovation economy, Kate believes that not enough people are accessing the benefits of the robust economy, namely Hispanic and Black employees, as they are blaringly underrepresented in high-demand roles like software engineering, for instance. Advancing San Diego hopes to eliminate this discrepancy and establish relationships between employers, education providers, and workforce development partners to contribute to an environment with more equal access to opportunities. 

11:25 SD Workforce Partnership has worked to fill the skills gap. Rachel says “96 percent of educational institutions believe they are adequately preparing students for the workforce while only 11 percent of business owners agree that they are prepared for with the skill sets employers require.” The organization has also helped employees who were recently laid off reskill to pivot their careers, and offers a number of other services.

16:29 Advancing San Diego and EDC similarly measure their demand by researching trends revolving around job growth and engaging employers into working groups (software, engineering, and entry level business talent).

18:43 Software is helping drive much of the innovation in San Diego. Virtually every industry has a need for software development talent, driving up demand for software developers. The local tech community largely contributes to the level of innovation present in the city today, with reports detailing the importance of software development in building a cohesive, diverse tech environment. While San Diego is home to a number of renowned universities, one does not need a bachelor’s degree from a four-year university to become a successful software developer. There are a multitude of nontraditional software training programs designed to prepare graduates for the workforce within weeks. With COVID, these are programs that can easily be done remotely and promote inclusivity at all levels. And it’s not just demand for software talent that’s growing. There has also been growth in manufacturing, logistics, and healthcare, to name a few.

26:18 Advancing San Diego strives to increase recruiter knowledge regarding the areas they can source tech talent from in addition to large universities. These schools then become “preferred providers,” and students from their program are offered internships, funded by JP Morgan Chase, at small companies, thus providing students with the experience necessary for attaining tech positions. 

Aside from its internship program, Advancing San Diego is hosting a Career Exploration Day on October 20, where students can learn about local job opportunities and connect with employers. 

32:57 Rachel talks through SD Workforce Partnership’s work to help companies diversify their teams. Diversity in the workplace goes further than race, gender, and religion. Diversity in background and experience is also important. One of the programs Rachel has helped launch is the Income Share Agreement (ISA) program – the answer to the student loan debt crisis. This program pulls from an investment fund to pay for students’ education, and in turn, the program receives payment from participating students once they are able to land a job that pays an adequate wage. 

To learn more about certificate programs and Advancing San Diego, visit advancingsandiego.org. In addition, on October 20, Advancing San Diego is hosting a virtual career fair open primarily to college students, as well as high school students, of San Diego. Details at https://sandiegocareers.vfairs.com/  

To further engage in the San Diego tech scene, attend San Diego Startup Month during October for a personalized month of career building, including the Career Incubator on October 16 and community bonding.


Favorite local tacos

Rachel: Puesto at the Headquarters and a taco truck in Downtown

Kate: City Tacos in North Park


Connect with Rachel:

Rachel LinkedIn

Connect with Kate:

Kate LinkedIn


Learn more about the San Diego Regional EDC and the SD Workforce Partnership 

SD Workforce Partnership: https://workforce.org/ 

San Diego Regional EDC: https://www.sandiegobusiness.org/


Thanks to our partners at Cox Business for their support in enabling us to grow the San Diego ecosystem.

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