Fresno workforce town hall kickoff a big success

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(Photo Credit: Ed Coghlan)

If Tuesday’s turnout for the first Town Hall of the Task Force on Workforce, Job Creation and a Strong Economy, held in Fresno, is any indication then the desire for a strong workforce in California is very, very high. 

The California Community Colleges commissioned the Task Force to address ways that California can address the skills gap that exists in the state’s economy. About 1-million middle skilled workers are needed–and business leaders are looking for answers.

As California Community College Vice Chancellor Van Ton-Quinlivan said after the session the desire and the urgency for change expressed among business leaders shows the Task Force’s mission is timely.

“The 130 people who attended the Town Hall and their comments affirm the direction of the community colleges and the vital role we play in jobs and the economy,” Ton-Quinlivan said.

Business leaders, especially among the Central Valley’s agriculture and manufacturing sectors joined some educators and other community leaders at the session.

Overwhelmingly they identified two areas of need: 

  1. The Community Colleges need to deepen relationships with employers by sector.
  2. There needs to be more work developing work-based learning in partnership with Career Technical Education.

The two-hour session unearthed plenty of discussion and a lot of ideas. One theme often heard was the idea of “portability”.

West Hills Community College President Carole Goldsmith drew more than a few chuckles when she said, “You know, California is a little fragmented.” She stressed that there are many good workforce programs already underway in California’s vast community college system.

“One good curriculum developed at any community college should be easier to import to other schools,” Goldsmith said. You could almost hear the heads nodding in agreement.

The audience had outstanding representation from the manufacturing sector. The meeting was held at Betts Company in Fresno and company president Mike Betts pointed out that manufacturing really “turned out” for the event.

The lack of a skilled workforce in manufacturing is problematic in California, which may explain some of the robust turnout. How to introduce manufacturing earlier to students–even while they are still in high school–drew quite a bit of discussion.

Rebecca Bettencourt, the Project Manager for Corporate Training at E&J Gallo, flatly asserted that their work begins in high schools.

The ideas were flowing like the wine that Gallo produces and one expects that will be the case as other Town Hall meetings are convened around the state. Four more are scheduled:

The Task Force will report its recommendations to the Community College Board of Governors on September 21. The goal of the group is for community colleges to become essential catalysts to California’s economic recovery and jobs creation at the local, regional and state levels.

By all indications, it’s off to a good start. 

Here’s a list of all the scheduled meetings and their details. Follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #StrongWorkforce.


Ed Coghlan

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