Technologically obsolete adults increasingly face digital barriers to jobs

580 200 Ed Coghlan

(Photo: Institute for Apprenticeships/Flickr)

No sector of California’s economy touches all others like technology. Every part of our dynamic economy is literally being rapidly altered by new tech. We talked to Steve Wright, the California Community Colleges Sector Navigator for Information Communication Technology and Digital Media, about working with colleges and employers across the state to help develop and promote programs that will upskill incumbent workers and train future ones. Wright worked in the telecommunications industry for over two decades—and he knows things move fast.

What makes the Information and Communication Technology area such a critical component of California's economy? 

Today the entire California workforce, from the newest high school student to the 50-year old incumbent worker, is enjoying the benefits of—or is being very disrupted by—rapidly evolving technologies and new job descriptions that require information communications technology and digital media skills.

Collectively there are over 340,000 open jobs in California needing skills from these subsectors. Over 221,000 California Community College (CCC) students are enrolled and taking one or more courses to improve their abilities in these skill areas. The skills are required at all levels of work and include contemporary office software, internet functionality and safety, as well as digital media basics.

Most of these changes are the result of internet-enabled business and government which are driven by advancements in information communication technologies (ICT). Subsectors of ICT include list Business Office Technology, IT-Networking-Cybersecurity, Computer Science, Digital Media, and Entertainment.

As IoT devices are expected to expand by millions per month, we will see an increasing demand for IT technology skill sets as well as an exponential growth need for cybersecurity skills and general cyber awareness.

The largest addressable student population in California for the education offered by the CCCs is the incumbent workforce facing technological obsolescence and increasing economic dislocation with every year. 

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

While most employers on Advisory Boards will opine that all they need are willing students with critical thinking skills and passion, the reality is that entry-level skills can be a barrier to hiring. Many students fresh out of four-year college with a liberal arts degree lack basic Microsoft Office skills like Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, as well as relevant business software like QuickBooks or Salesforce. For technologically obsolete adults, learning these skills is the key to employment.

Employers looking for IT and cybersecurity professionals like our IT curriculum but increasingly need team leaders with business skills commonly associated with a bachelor's degree as well. We continue to look for IT articulation bachelor's degree pathways for our students like our recently announced agreements with National University and Western Governors University.

Meanwhile, for software development and coding, the Computer Science Bachelor of Science degree still reigns supreme and the CCC CS AT Degree is the best economical transfer pathway to the CSUs that money can buy. For incumbent workers, an array of high-end IT and cybersecurity courses are available at the CCCs which also host over 66 Cisco Academies.

Digital Media training is much more attractive to students than is business. The choice here is split. Either the artistically talented digital media student becomes an entrepreneur (which is challenging) or learns to combine digital media with other sector skills like marketing, journalism, or even public safety or medical technology. The combinations are endless but need to be planned into the pathway. The world communicates digitally but for employment, digital media skills alone are not enough for the job.

What successes are you having with employers already—and how are students benefiting? (cite a benefit or two)

Students are benefitting from our in-depth market research on job pathways in this sector based upon intensive field research and discussions with employers, placement agencies and major workforce research organizations.

Based upon this research we have developed two Guided Pathway recommendations, the Business Information Worker (BIW) and the IT Technician Pathways. Both are designed to enable a student to be employable in six months and then build from there. They are reliant on benchmarks establish by industry recognized third-party certifications and built into existing CCC curriculum. With a majority of CCC participating, this is a major benefit to students, faculty, career counselors and employers as we have streamlined the path to effective employment. In addition, the IT Model Curriculum is being reviewed by CSU for articulation for transfer.

Additional pathways are in development for Digital Media based upon the business uses of story for communication purposes. Our Entertainment support is closely tied to working professionals in that industry.

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

Based on the number of students that approach the CCC system to take just a few courses and then seek employment, we have structured our pathways to improve their effectiveness and for them to get as job as soon as possible. Then we provide next steps for future learning and build for credit pathways to a degree where possible.

We have also developed the BIW Cohort Model program to engage BIW students with each other as well as business and industry for encouragement, as evidenced by our statewide relationship with the California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

For IT-Cybersecurity, the need for workforce experience can start as an after-school game in high school. We have partnered with CA Cyberhub to help grow and produce the California Mayors Cyber Cup Competition that this year engaged 1,300 high school students in 300 teams at 15 CCC locations across the state to demonstrate their skills in a competition of wits with other teams.

As a co-sponsor Northrup Grumman spokesperson said, “This is the worker we seek—able to work as a team while on a computer and solving problems as they emerge with creativity and teamwork.” These students are a growing trend and the CCCs have IT and computer science pathways for them.

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

We see two major challenges ahead: improving Guided Pathway experiences for students and facilitating faculty professional development in this rapidly expanding field.

A Guided Pathway in any sector must first be a correct and true pathway of marketplace relevant skills delivered in an effective and timely manner to students in order to maximize employment and minimize wasted time. This requires research, local engagement with industry, and various training and guidance materials for students.

Professional development for faculty, likewise, requires marketplace relevant skills delivered in an effective and timely manner to help students maximize employment and minimize wasted time. To meet this need we have dedicated our website to faculty and CCC Administration support for the pathways. We have also, instead of funding annual conferences, turned our attention to providing a weekly ICT Educator Series, 10 a.m. each Friday on Zoom, which brings the best speakers and insiders to the faculty desktop and is recorded for their later viewing along with ancillary materials for their further exploration.

Anything else to add?

The ICT Sector Team meets weekly by Zoom to discuss and share best practices. With a slate of 10 Deputy Sector Navigators spread out across the state, we are able to participate in all major funding and workforce development opportunities as well as engage with industry locally. This is a one of a kind network of ICT subject matter experts who bring their hands-on best value to the 114 CCCs, students and business. The collective work of these individuals has an enormous positive impact on the CCC system.

We believe that students in the ICT Sector have many choices i.e., public, private, free, online and on the job. Our aim is to integrate into all the experiences and backgrounds they may have to provide a helping hand on their educational pathway for their sake, for the employer and the community at large.

The California Economic Summit has been working with the Community Colleges and its Strong Workforce Program to promote efforts to improve and strengthen the quality of California’s workforce. The Summit will meet in Fresno November 7 8 and the state’s workforce needs will be high on the agenda.

Previous interviews have included what sector navigators in California’s health care economy and the small business entrepreneurial sector.


Ed Coghlan

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