How community colleges aim to help California’s aspiring entrepreneurs in the new economy

580 200 Ed Coghlan

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The California Community Colleges Strong Workforce Program has identified 10 sectors of the California economy where the need for a trained workforce is not only a challenge today but will also be a need in the future.

Each of these industry-specific areas is headed by a Sector Navigator. We’ve been talking with them about their work, their sectors and how they are working with employers and colleges to develop and promote relevant programs to meet our workforce needs.

Today Charles Eason, who has 20 years experience in the small business sector, joins us to discuss the small business and entrepreneurship area of our state's economy, which promises dynamic growth in the coming years:

What makes the Business/Entrepreneur sector a critical component of California's economy?

Entrepreneurs and small business owners are critical to California’s economic development as contributors to innovation and new job growth. According to the Kauffman Entrepreneur Index Study by the Kauffman Foundation, California is 5th in the nation for entrepreneurial growth and 2nd for overall entrepreneurial activity. California’s small businesses comprise 98% of all businesses in the state, provide 82% of the private sector jobs, and 75% of the gross state product. According to data from the Employment Development Department (EDD) Labor Market Information Division (LMID), there are over 1.3 million small businesses (with 100 or fewer employees) that employee over 7.6 million people in California.

What are employers telling you that they need from the community colleges for workforce development?

Employers are looking for both technical skills and soft skills or what we call 21st century skills such as adaptability, solution mindset, collaboration, communication, digital fluency, entrepreneurial mindset, empathy, resilience, self-awareness, and social/diversity awareness. For the Business and Entrepreneurship Sector, we are focusing on providing students both the technical skills in the field of study or discipline plus the business skills for the students to become the future entrepreneurial leaders of California. These business or entrepreneurial skills help our students to be more valuable employees as well since they understand what the business owner is looking for in terms of a workforce that can help them succeed.

What successes are you having with employers already—and how are students benefiting? 

Most of the employers for the Business and Entrepreneurship Sector are small companies.  Companies may want to hire freelancers on a project basis versus hiring them as permanent employees. Studies predict that by 2027, the number of people participating as freelancers or independent contractors in the workforce will exceed 50% of the workforce. One area we have had some success is preparing our students to become freelancers or independent contractors in the growing Gig Economy. We just completed a Self-employment Pathways in the Gig Economy project with 24 colleges across the state.

We know that early learning opportunities—internships and other real world experiences—are a priority. How is that effort going?

The Self-employment Pathways in the Gig Economy project I mentioned included an experiential learning component where the participating colleges assigned launch coaches or mentors to students to help the launch into the Gig Economy and secure their first gigs. We have also been supporting a lot of experiential learning opportunities around things such as business pitch competitions and student run businesses. 

At the K-12 level, we have been working with the Virtual Enterprise Program where classes of 11th and 12th graders select a virtual business to run and compete with other virtual businesses across the state and nation. Virtual Enterprise conducts large trade shows at the Oakland Convention Center, Bakersfield Convention Center, Pasadena Convention Center and San Diego which attract over 1,000 students to compete in teams across the state.

Looking forward to the next year, what are the challenges and the opportunities in your sector?

Our Sector was recently renamed from the Small Business Sector to the Business and Entrepreneurship Sector. As such, we plan to add a focus on the Business component versus just Entrepreneurship. The Business Divisions are typically one of the largest Divisions at most colleges. Business crosses many sectors, so our challenge will be to focus in on areas that will have the most impact in terms of helping our students achieve employment in their field of study that can lead to earning a living wage.

The decisions on what areas or occupations to focus on in the business world will need to be data driven. For the entrepreneurial side of things, it’s harder to track. Data have always been a challenge since most of our data sources are based on labor market information (LMI) data through sources such as the California Employment Development Department (EDD). However, if you are self-employed you do not report your income through EDD, but through the Franchise Tax Board (FTB) in the form of a Schedule C on a personal tax return or corporate tax return for a Corporation or Limited Liability Company (LLC).

Read our interview on community colleges responding to health care sector workforce needs.

Here’s the list and contact information for all the Sector Navigators.


Ed Coghlan

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