California’s Strong Workforce Program

Pam Sornson, JD

All successful initiatives require the coordination of resources. California’s economy will flourish post-pandemic when the coordination of all its resources unite to accomplish that singular goal. Fortunately, that’s the actual goal of the California Community College’s Chancellor’s Office (CCCCO), which is tasked with manifesting state mandates at the ground level through the modernization of its community college system. And the whole process hinges on the Strong Workforce Program (SWP) department of its Economic and Workforce Development Division (WEDD).


Many Resources + Enlightened Leadership = Strong Schools and an Educated Workforce

The CCCCO is itself the product of several coordinated resources – its ‘divisions,’ – each of which provides an integral infrastructure element and all of which combine to create a unique and formidable education leadership enterprise. These nine divisions together embrace all the initiatives set for the CCC system by both the State and its own internal directives, from its relationship with governments and funding management to technology acquisition and ‘institutional effectiveness.’ Division leaders oversee the system’s operations within their purview to ensure that those conform to standards and policies and facilitate the success of its overall day-to-day, term, and annual practices.

Looking forward, however, is the work of the WEDD, which uses data and economic realities as the foundations of its program, funding, and grant development strategies. The WEDD applies these resources to achieve its overarching goals of providing CCC students with 21st Century skills and abilities they need to fulfill the purposes of the State’s 21st Century industries and businesses.


‘WEDD’: An Enlightened ‘Marriage’

Within the WEDD are seven individual initiatives. Each of them also plays an integral role in the Division’s success, and all address the issues that affect each of the State’s 116 community colleges:

Approaching the needs of students of all ages through the California Adult Education Program (CAEP) and the California Apprenticeship Initiative (CAI).

Manifesting the intent of the federal Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V). When re-adopted in 2018, enhanced support for underserved student populations, adding even more financial and other supports to ensure all California learners can access the education of their choice.

Responding to a state-wide shortage of nursing resources through its Nursing and Allied Health strategies, which coordinate entry-, mid-, and advanced-level nursing opportunities throughout the CCC and broader California University systems.

Setting policy and practice guidelines through its economic and workforce development goals that knit together the schools’ resources with the needs and drivers of their local businesses and industries.

Setting processes in motion by investing in youth education through its K-12 Strong Workforce Program (K12 SWP). In 2018-2019, the State invested $150 million to develop, support, and expand Career and Technical Education (CTE) resources that assist high school students transition into both post-secondary education and the job of their dreams.

Focusing on the issue through its Strong Workforce Program (SWP).


SWP: Better Education. Enhanced Mobility. Stronger Economy

While it began as a simple assignment – spend $248 million a year to add one million more middle-skilled workers to California’s labor pool – the execution of the SWP is oh-so-much more complex. The project builds on the three fundamental elements of a successful business: people, process, and product.



Strong workers grow from successful students, and ‘student success’ is really what the SWP is all about. The program gangs six target areas to encompass all CCC students with the supports they need to succeed.

Standardized career pathways that lay out the courses and directives learners use to navigate their way into, through, and out of school and into the career or work of their choosing.

Curricula design that matches employers’ needs with educational resources. When coordinating the efforts of both those parties, each of them benefits, as does their mutual student/worker.

CTE faculty expertise that draws from business and industry to inform and direct school investments and asset acquisitions.

Regional coordination across California’s nine industrial regions. The State’s Labor and Workforce Development Agency tracks job numbers, worker numbers, industry developments, and more to determine where people might find work and the type of work they might find there. With that information, local and regional leaders can invest in the supports needed by those businesses, including supporting the local schools that are developing their workforce. The parameters of the nine regions correlate to the various resources that are innate to the geography and climate of the region, and the State directs its resources to individual regions based on the needs of those specific regional assets.

Appropriate funding dispersed where it’s needed the most – to students, so they can complete their education and move forward into their careers, and to schools so they can invest in the resources that best serve their communities.

Data collection and analysis, which provide the evidentiary foundation upon which sound educational decisions are made.



Pursuing outcomes rather than milestones, the SWP uses data to track student success through to its actual desired end: a well-trained worker ensconced in a well-paying, satisfying career, fulfilling the dreams of a happy employer. But the SWP process also adds the elements of innovation and entrepreneurship to support those learners who have more to give than just an honest day’s labor. While the curricula support training for all students, those who want to put their education to work following their personal paths to independence are fully supported. Encompassing the needs of all learners according to their needs, the SWP provides the processes required to facilitate their dreams and launch their careers.



While still a work in progress, the ultimate end product of the SWP is already visible: across the state, community colleges are building programs that support workforce development and forging new and collaborative partnerships with local and regional businesses. At the same time, they are also executing their State mandate to become the workforce development engine envisioned by California’s enlightened leadership those several years ago.


The COVID-19 pandemic underscores the immense and growing value of the SWP and the State’s WEDD. Investments made a decade ago by people who could not imagine the economic chaos of 2020 are now not just paying off but proving prescient in their wisdom. Because so much groundwork is already in place, the process of rebuilding the economy post-pandemic can be built upon its infrastructure, which will certainly speed the process and move the State more quickly into a thriving, economically sound future.

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