Building an Interface between College and Career – Work-Based Learning

Pam Sornson, JD

Pam Sornson, JD

The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic has caused an unprecedented economic disaster in America and around the world. The 2021 COVID-19 vaccines offer hope that at least some of the disaster’s damages can be mitigated sooner rather than later. For many companies, rebuilding the business will require rethinking a future strategy to embrace both the new way of doing business and the revitalized economy’s new opportunities. In many cases, that strategy improves when an appropriately trained workforce meets emerging job requirements.

For the past year, the Work-based Learning (WBL) division of Pasadena City College’s Economic and Workforce Development department has been envisioning and developing the resources needed to ensure that the new workforce successfully meets economic demands.


Both Viruses and Vaccines have Economic Impact

Statistics indicate that America’s economy plummeted in the first quarter of 2020, dropping an astonishing 31.4% due to the explosion of the coronavirus in all 50 states. Like other countries, the U.S. ordered non-essential businesses to close, throwing millions of people out of work. In subsequent months, some of those jobs came back as businesses reinvented themselves in digital form. However, many companies and even industries were not feasible in a solely virtual reality, and their former employees remained unemployed throughout the coronavirus crisis. Looking forward, experts suggest that finding new work for these displaced workers will depend on businesses revising their workforce needs and workers upskilling themselves to qualify for new employment opportunities.

Just as the virus shut down the world, effective vaccines to combat COVID-19 promise to open it back up. News of the first two vaccines’ success, both two-dose courses introduced by Moderna and Pfizer, triggered a stock market boom, pushing last November’s Dow Jones stock index average to spike over 30,000 points for the first time.

Further, ever-increasing vaccine availability in 2021  suggests a continued resurgence of both the American and global economies. At the beginning of Q2 2021, more people have received at least one dose of the two-dose regimes than were initially expected. The Spring 2021 release of millions of more doses, including those from new providers, will protect a growing percentage of the world’s population. The global economy is already responding positively to the bright financial forecast.


Businesses Can Respond To Those Impacts …

The emerging economic expansion will also task employers with adapting their processes to meet its new demands. The almost immediate transition to remote-based work as the COVID-crisis grew has created its own nexus of new skills, as both workers and organizations revised workflows to accommodate that newly working-from-home labor force. And while those transformations initially satisfied the then-demand to maintain the status quo during the pandemic, they were not developed to embrace the transformative mindset now needed to optimize performance in the new economic reality.

One set of experts believes that employers need to do more than just accept the work-from-home reality if they intend to thrive into the next economic boom. Instead, they should embrace both the emerging digital opportunities and also understand how those capacities change the recruitment, coaching, and management of their workforce.

To accomplish new goals arising from both those opportunities, organizations should consider how they can innovate two of their most important assets:

Their technologies: The pandemic sped up the pace of technological advancements, sometimes reducing the time for new releases from several years to just a few months. Legacy tech systems will need revamping or replacing, and staff will require further or re- training on the evolved systems.

Their workforce: As noted above, new technology is changing how work gets done, and companies need workers that come with the skills required to meet those new demands. As well, many employers now recognize the high values they find when searching for new workers in an expanded and more diverse talent pool. Too often undervalued, job candidates from diverse ethnicities and backgrounds can provide identical skillsets while also imbuing their value with unique nuances derived from their distinct, cultural perspectives. A diverse workforce with strong foundational technical skills offers the flexibility and agility their employers will need to transition into the new economy and beyond.


… By Building the Workforce They Need For The Future

Well before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, developing California’s advanced workforce has been the focus of California’s Community Colleges. In 2012, state leaders recognized the immense untapped economic opportunity that lay within their higher ed system of 116 community colleges and began investing in them as a means of boosting the state’s economy. Consequently, those schools are now working in partnership with their local and regional businesses and industries to develop the talent pipelines needed at those local levels. One of the partnering methods that continues to gain in popularity is that of Work-based Learning (WBL).


Work-based Learning as a Workforce Development Tool

WBL embraces the partnership between an employer needing skilled workers and an education provider with access to a wealth of untapped talent. The resulting collaboration creates the nexus that results in a skilled, well-trained workforce for both organizations and the industries in which they work.

Developing a WBL partnership with a local community college provides many benefits to all three participants.

For employers:

Their inputs generate training programs designed to meet their specific needs, regardless of the nature of their work.

They gain exposure to a diverse candidate pool that they might not have seen before.

They can temporarily fill roles without committing to a long-term hire situation.

Providing on-the-job training during the education phase ensures that their future employee will be fully functioning their first day on the job.

For students:

Exposure to work-related ‘soft skills,’ such as communication, team-work, and following directions, enhances their academic pursuits.

Work experience during school provides insights into career opportunities they may not have considered.

Connections made with the company build relationships and networks the student can explore post-graduation.

For the school:

California’s community colleges have budgets designed to address the needs of their community industries. WBL collaborations provide critical insights as to the appropriate spending of those funds.

Business partnerships also open doors to other opportunities for which the school may also have resources. While a technology company may be looking for technicians, it may also need bookkeepers, HR specialists, etc.

The schools also have vested interests in the success of their community. A healthy economic community generates more students.


One of the pillars of Pasadena City College’s Economic and Workforce Development department (PCC EWD) is its Work-based Learning division, headed by Jacqueline Javier. She and her team assist both employers and students make the WBL connections they need to fuel to demand for a well-trained workforce. Considering the speed with which the vaccines are opening local, regional and national economies, the work of PCC’s WBL division can’t happen fast enough.




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