Imagine a north state where students graduate from our excellent schools, go to college or receive career training right here at home, obtain a degree or certificate, then get recruited by local employers because they are ideal candidates for living-wage jobs.

This is the vision of a growing collaborative of north state minds, and it’s not as far from reality as it might seem. On May 8, community leaders, business people, educators and many others gathered for a robust discussion during a Roots of Our Health II summit, “Healthy People in a Healthy Economy,” an effort to broaden people’s understanding of the connection between education, employment and health.

Organized by Shasta County Health and Human Services-Public Health, the event celebrated some of the successes that have been achieved since the first Roots of Our Health summit in 2010 — including the Shasta Early Literacy Project, which is building community-wide momentum for ensuring that our youngest residents become avid readers; Reach Higher Shasta, an unprecedented team effort to make post-secondary education and/or training accessible to all Shasta County students; and Working Strategies for Women, a mentoring program for women entrepreneurs.

In addition to preparing children for kindergarten and promoting education and training after high school, a critical piece of the cradle-to-career trajectory is to mobilize those who have a role in economic development. One person at “Healthy People in a Healthy Economy” mentioned that he recently had nine job openings and was unable to find qualified local applicants to fill them. This begs the questions: What careers are readily available in Shasta County? What training do those jobs require, and where can students get it? How else can we prepare our students for that work? What opportunities are available for job shadowing and internships?

Meanwhile, why is Health and Human Services interested in economic development? Income is strongly linked to health and life expectancy, so everyone’s health and longevity can increase with more job skills and better employment opportunities. Therefore, helping improve our local economy so everyone has more opportunity for meaningful work that pays a living wage is a health issue and a community issue.

Preparing and employing a highly skilled workforce does take the whole community. For parents, it’s stressing the importance of academic success and college/career training to their children. For educators, it’s preparing students for the workforce. For higher education institutions, it’s providing the training that students need to successfully step into living-wage jobs, and closely considering the local labor market’s needs when adding new programs. For business leaders, it’s making innovations and taking risks to start new business ventures that will employ local people. For existing businesses and professionals, it’s providing job shadowing and internship opportunities for high school and college students.