Community College “Instruction” – It’s More Than Just the Classroom

Pam Sornson, JD

Pam Sornson, JD

Despite a recovering economy and vaccines diligently battling back against the Coronavirus, employment numbers in many industries remain stagnant. This reality is perplexing not just because so many people really need work but also because so many businesses really need workers.

While the reasons causing the problem are many and varied, the foundational challenge is often a lack of worker skills and experience. Compounding that challenge is the fact that so many jobs are different now from what they were before the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, even experienced employees don’t necessarily have the skills needed to meet the new demands of their old job.

Fortunately, to the aid of all businesses come California’s community colleges (CCC), where students gain the education they need to find work, and businesses find both workers and workforce training opportunities. Connecting the two populations is the work of college ‘Instruction’ leaders, who clarify emerging skills trends, assist with developing responsive curricula, then introduce their CCC learners to their future occupations and employers.


Dr. Laura Ramirez – Assistant Superintendent and Vice President of Instruction, Pasadena City College (PCC)

Although she only recently arrived at PCC, Dr. Laura Ramirez is already immersed in discovering the employment gaps in the Los Angeles and Pasadena area and looking for ways to connect her new student body to those job and career opportunities.

She has a daunting adventure ahead of her, however. At any time, developing educational materials for a rapidly evolving industrial base is a challenge. In the age of COVID-19, that challenge is multiplied. California has the country’s second-highest unemployment rate as of the end of April, standing at 8.3% even while more than 100,000 new jobs were added in the previous sixty days. In the Los Angeles region, the unemployment number rose from 11.4% in March to 11.7% in early May, despite thousands of jobs going unfilled. The new VP-I must find a way to attract the attention of those potential workers while assuring their potential employers that they’ll be well-trained the day they are hired.

It’s not like she’s not busy otherwise, either. As the VP of Instruction, Ramirez oversees all aspects of the ‘college learning’ spectrum, from reviewing programs, tracking student progress, and curriculum development and implementation to monitoring distance learning resources and tutoring and academic support. Therefore, any effort she puts into workforce development must fit through these prisms as well as respond to the very specific needs of individual companies. However, she also comes to the job with a wealth of experience in the CCC/Instruction sphere, and she’ll make good use of those skills moving forward.


Three Avenues – One Direction

In a recent interview with PCC’s Economic and Workforce Development (EWD) Director Salvatrice Cummo, Ramirez sees her job as having three primary functions, each of which removes unnecessary barriers to the career-attainment process:

Developing and facilitating comprehensive training programs and resources that are relevant to today’s industrial environment.

It doesn’t help a learner to complete an education without also being qualified to find and maintain a viable job. To accomplish this objective, she’s evaluating existing academic and ‘career and technical education’ (CTE) programs to determine where they might need tune-ups to respond more closely to current industry demands.

She’ll also be working closely with the EWD department and local and regional businesses to deepen her – and their – understanding of the high potential to be gained through a business/college collaboration. All the data will inform her decisions regarding what students will need to know to be an employee and where to allocate financial, staffing, and other resources to help them learn those lessons.

Assisting students to access the full depth and breadth of PCC’s resources to overcome the life barriers they face on their educational journey.

A significant proportion of today’s CCC students arrive at the school with a myriad of challenges, from housing and food needs to basic transportation and financial concerns. PCC has resources that respond to those needs when the learner knows how to access them.

But Ramirez takes addressing this concern to a higher level by analyzing for and providing the service options students need to become – and be – good workers as well as accomplished learners. At the PCC Freeman Center for Career and Completion, all learners have access to services providing fundamental job-acquisition skills, including (among many other supports):

determining an appropriate area of education that responds to the student’s innate talents, abilities, and preferences;

how to seek out and participate in job interviews, and

how to apply for internships, apprenticeships, and jobs.

Not only do PCC students gain job-related skills, but they also learn how to be reliable and productive employees too.

Assisting the community to recognize and engage with PCC assets as a workforce training entity.

In addition to training future workers, PCC also has the resources to retrain and upskill the existing labor force, whether that’s for a specific company or to meet the growing needs of an evolving industry. The unemployed workers/unfilled jobs numbers suggest that even with a willing worker available, they’re not actually an employee option without the right skills.

Ramirez reaches out to corporate leaders of individual businesses and industry groups to create workforce development collaborations throughout the Pasadena and Los Angeles community. The business leaders contribute a much-needed ‘hands-on’ perspective to the instruction director and offer job and employment insights that may not be known outside their workspace walls. At the same time, they can suggest workforce development investments and strategies that will enhance the value and quality of their current and future staffers. Their efforts at the college ensure that they will have a steady stream of well-qualified employees as their company grows.


High unemployment and unfilled job openings plague the economic recovery efforts of every industry and every government. Today’s community colleges are becoming the nexus in which those two challenges each find innovative and effective solutions. And when those colleges are also tuning their education work to meet the needs of their economic business and industry neighbors, they’re serving the needs of not just their students but their entire community, too.


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