Career-focused Pathways Enhance Student Success

Pam Sornson, JD

Pam Sornson, JD

October 3, 2023

In essence, the goal is to develop a system that results in ‘wins’ for everyone and every entity involved: students, businesses, industries, and communities. How to achieve that goal is a challenge, and there are as many opinions about ‘next steps’ as there are people joining the conversation. However, if all participants can agree to a single, overarching, and ultimate ‘universal’ objective (such as a ‘healthy and growing economy’ or ‘no unfilled job openings,’ as examples), then each can determine how their assets and capacities will contribute individually to accomplishing that singular intention.


Training, Trades, & Transforming Pathways

Forging a path toward that goal is the subject matter for our first panel of experts at the upcoming (October 26th, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.) Future of Work Conference hosted by Pasadena City College (PCC). (It’s free. Register here.) The events of the past three years have revealed glaring gaps in workforce development preparations and outputs in California and across the country. Thousands of job openings in occupations critical to maintaining economic foundations are unfilled because there are no workers – or no trained workers – available to accept them. In May 2023, on National Skilled Trades Day, America’s industries were missing over 400,000 welders, 18,000 aircraft mechanics, and 78,000 truck drivers. These gaps in workforce capacities limit the productivity of both the company that would hire them and the industries and supply chains with which those are affiliated. It’s a domino effect; when a business can’t complete one leg of a journey, or can’t fulfill an order for one part of a machine, or doesn’t have the resources to facilitate one element within a logistics strategy, then all aspects of that combined joint project – contractors, vendors, merchants, and consumers – also fail.

The lack of skilled tradespeople isn’t a new development, however. For decades, trade school enrollment has been dropping as society shifted its focus to a four-year degree as the ultimate educational standard. Consequently, many people best suited to a trade-type occupation lost their opportunity to attend the school that would have given them that training. Now, there are plenty of job opportunities within those fields that need filling. As of this Spring, there were over 10,000,000 job openings across the nation, but only 5.7 million unemployed workers who might fill those positions.

The pandemic appears to have opened a door to remedy this situation. It both eliminated whole swaths of occupations that were rendered irrelevant or obsolete by technology while also revealing an ever-burgeoning demand for more skilled labor across many industries. Schools with programs that were no longer relevant are now contemplating new avenues for training purposes that will respond to the labor demand. Industries with emerging needs – technology, infrastructure, security, etc. – are looking for responsive resources to fill those gaps (in terms of both educational resources and HR assets). Meanwhile, the government continues to pump billions of dollars – local, state, and federal – into workforce development projects in an effort to regain lost ground and build the foundation for a new and refreshed economic future. With so much of the previous system in disarray, ‘now’ seems like the right time to intentionally move away from what’s not working and toward new endeavors that promise more success.


Innovations in Student-Focused Systems Change

Understanding what kind of labor industries and businesses need, however, is just one part of the solution. Another factor is developing the educational resources necessary to address those workforce requirements. Accordingly, the second panel at the Future of Work Conference will discuss the nuances involved in transitioning outmoded existing college and trade school resources into structures that respond to today’s economic and labor force demands. Improving the connection between college and career will also (ostensibly) improve student success metrics, too. These conference panelists, too, have a challenge facing them.

In July 2023, the California Employment Department’s Labor Market Information Division (EDD- LMID) reported:

California’s seasonally-adjusted unemployment percentage is 4.6, which is up a bit over the low point reached (3.8%) in the Summer of 2022.

Three of the state’s 11 major industries have yet to regain their pre-pandemic employment numbers: financial activities, government, and ‘other’ services.

Year-over-year job gains from 2022 through 2023 are promising, with the highest numbers of new jobs added occurring in private education, health services, and leisure and hospitality.

These are relevant factors that can feed the Conference discussion.

And there is growth to be had, too. Looking ahead, EDD-LMIC research also offers indicators of future job creation opportunities. Just three main sectors will account for 65% of the job growth volume over the next year:

The expansion of the leisure and hospitality industry will continue by as much as 7.3%, adding over 130,000 new jobs, primarily in the food services and drinking establishment sectors.

The social services sector (including private education, health services, and social assistance) is expected to grow an additional 4.3%, with almost half (41%) occurring in the social assistance subsector alone.

The business and professional services section will be growing, too, by almost 3% (2.7). Nearly one in five of those new occupations (18%) will involve computer systems design and related activities.

This panel must also consider long-term growth expectations. The California EDD issues 10-year predictions about workforce demands in the state’s 15 economic regions, with the most recent covering the decade between 2020 and 2030. For example, the Los Angeles Basin region (Los Angeles County) is predicted to have significant employment growth in occupations that cross several industrial sectors, including general and operations management, software-related fields (including developers, security, and quality assurance analysts), and accountants and auditors. Registered nurses will also be highly valuable, as will project management and business operations specialists.


The task ahead for the participants at PCC’s 2023 Future of Work Conference is daunting. Creating a ‘win-win’ scenario that builds both a robust workforce and a strong economy will challenge each of them to not just impart their wisdom, but also to collaborate with their conference colleagues to new ways of seeing and thinking about ‘workforce development.’ It’s a conversation you won’t want to miss.


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