Industries in California move fast. New skills are needed, occupations change with new trends and technologies, and training programs are commonly a little behind the times when it comes to curricula or even total number of trainees, given the demand for workers.
There has been significant support for aligning education with industry to address the rapid pace of change through initiatives like the Strong Workforce program in California’s community college system.
But what the Los Angeles region has discovered is that real systems change happens when we collaborate as a region on employer outreach, rather than engaging one college and one employer at a time.
A new model to scale up
A new model for this engagement has been transforming how this happens in L.A. County.
Organized as the Center for a Competitive Workforce (CCW), a Strong Workforce regional project led by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC) in partnership with 19 of the region’s community colleges, CCW brings industry leaders and employers in many of the region’s highest growth industries together with faculty to develop those relationships.
The initiative is designed to inspire new education and training programs, support faculty professional development, connect students to work-based learning and jobs, align training with regional economic demands, and strengthen access to local talent pipelines for our region’s businesses.
This effort is all about scale.
Community colleges represent a vital part of the education and talent development landscape (and the largest segment) with over a half million students and adult learners pursuing career and technical education certificates and academic degrees. The community colleges also serve a racially diverse student base and strengthen our region’s ability to power an equitable and inclusive recovery.
Due to the economic impact of the pandemic, hundreds of thousands of people are still out of work in L.A. County with many low-wage jobs lost that will not return. Reskilling for better paying, middle-skill jobs must be a priority, especially with openings on the rise and a forecast by LAEDC showing significant opportunity for well-paying careers.
The community college system has been able to adapt through collaboration with LAEDC to offer fast, efficient certificates to prepare job-seekers for specific career opportunities that LAEDC has identified in the L.A. County economy.
Examining Career Pathways
During the spring of 2021, LAEDC staff have been bringing together college faculty and students with employers such as Riot Games, Netflix Animation, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Amazon Web Services and many other employers, to examine career paths and skills requirements for specific occupations that are in-demand, such as website design, animation, cloud computing administrators, auto technicians, social service assistants and more.
Students and faculty are hearing directly from employers about hiring and skills needs for well-paying jobs with strong forecasts for openings. These interactions allow students to ask questions of top employers and plan their education more accurately. And significantly, this develops relationships with large regional employers and sets the stage for work-based learning programs and more efficient use of student time at community college. Faculty further develop these relationships with industry to create future-forward and adaptive training pathways.
During this past school year, over a thousand students from 19 of L.A. County’s community colleges engaged with employers in student-focused work-based learning and internship webinars facilitated by LAEDC.
In addition, well over 150 community college leadership and faculty members engaged with over 50 major employers for the purpose of discussing specific occupational programs, curriculum, and the industry trends that are shaping skills requirements for those occupations. These intimate convenings, known as CCW Regional Program Advisories — exclusively for community college faculty and employers — are driving progress and helping the colleges determine when programs need to scale up and adjust curricula.
A great example is Citrus College, serving the East San Gabriel Valley. In the past year, as a result of engaging with CCW Regional Program Advisory programs, the Business Department faculty have developed new certificates in accounting and real estate, and recently started to develop several new business and entrepreneur certificates, and are now considering a new program in paralegal. CCW’s Regional Program Advisories have also helped the college’s new full-time faculty in the IT Department gain an understanding of the regional need for cloud computing, which has led to development of curricula.
Michael Wangler, dean of career, technical and continuing education at Citrus College shared, “I think the most impactful part of CCW for Citrus has been the regional advisory meetings.”
This deep engagement is helping all the region’s community colleges develop and offer certificate programs that meet employer needs for the jobs of today and tomorrow.
Research is a key enabler of this work, with LAEDC’s Institute for Applied Economics providing the analysis of occupations that are projected to have significant job openings and good pay. In June, LAEDC and CCW released the report LA’s Middle-Skill Occupations through the Lens of Race & Ethnicity, which informs college program development and related equity conversations to bring good jobs to underserved communities and give businesses more ability to implement desired diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives.
The model is working, and best of all, it can be replicated in any region in California and tailored to a region’s specific industry composition and workforce needs.
Jessica Ku Kim is vice president of economic and workforce development for Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC), a 501c3 advancing equity, growth, environmental sustainability and resilience to benefit all in LA County. Contact her at Jessica.email@example.com or learn more about the work of CCW at https://CompetitiveWorkforce.LA