COVID Evolution: Revisioning PCC’s EWD
Pam Sornson, JD
It’s safe to say that the past 22 months were unique. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted every system at Pasadena City College (PCC), all of which then required significant overhauls of decades-old practices. Social upheaval driven by centuries of entrenched biases revealed the alarming realities faced by many in PCC’s BIPOC communities. And climate-change disasters such as wildfires and floods drove some students, faculty, and staff from their homes and disconnected hundreds more from their electronic resources.
Despite the chaos, PCC and its Economic and Workforce Development department (EWD) persevered with their mission to provide optimal educational services to the school’s constituents. Many lessons were learned during the process, providing the team with tools and insights to tackle both the challenges and advantages that lie ahead. Now, the EWD is gearing up for 2022, revisioning PCC’s standard processes to apply that newfound wisdom in its pursuit of community college education excellence.
Remarkably, despite its devastation, the COVID-19 pandemic also opened opportunities for growth that were previously shrouded by (now obsolete) tradition:
Previous mandates for in-person classes were ditched to prevent accidental transmission of the virus. A quick pivot to ‘remote learning’ required faculty and staff to rapidly upskill their technological know-how while students embraced their studies through the small screen of their devices. The remote learning option has remained popular with many students and teachers – and is sometimes optimal over in-class attendance – even as masks and vaccines reduced the risk of spread, and in-person attendance again became possible.
Skillsets once thought of as ancillary to the job are now considered ‘the job’ in and of themselves, and that recognition opens new employment options across most industry sectors. Identified as the foundational skillsets for ’emerging economies,’ job skills in technology, finance, and human relations, to name just a few, are gaining precedence in job list postings since they are applicable in virtually every business setting. The demand for workers with these digital, critical thinking, and emotional intelligence skills is driving the development of whole new programs to meet those needs and provide these necessary supports for the decidedly revised post-COVID economy.
Not least significant is the impact of recent social justice events. Incidents driven by racism, sexism, classism, and other inappropriate dividers have spotlighted inequities buried deep within social constructs and systems. Across industries and regions, entities are building responses to these concerns to clear away those divisions and provide the support that will truly propel people forward, regardless of their ethnic, racial, or religious background.
Through all these unfolding scenarios, the EWD department pressed on – reaching out digitally to students and business partners, modifying strategies to maximize remote access, and performing other equally out-of-the-box feats to ensure as many learners as possible had the access they needed to continue their education.
At the same time, the EWD also maintained its focus on its institutional goals, as those are laid out by state policy. PCC has designed its activities and programs to ultimately achieve the goals of two overarching state mandates.
California’s Vision for Success (V4S) is a long-range strategy for accessing community college resources to build a reliable, relevant, and highly skilled labor force that can meet the needs of today’s and tomorrow’s industries.
California’s Strong Workforce Program sets out specific recommendations to achieve success in the V4S initiative’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) sector.
The school works toward achieving these ends by aligning coursework and programs with local and regional labor demands. The EWD contributes to the effort by aligning its community outreach efforts so that students can find relevant job-related experience while still in school, and local and regional businesses can find the well-trained workforce they need.
A Well-trained Team
PCC’s EWD is built on five pillars (up from four – the PCC “Extension” program was added as an individual and distinct pillar during the 2020-2021 academic year). As a group, the pillars represent PCC’s efforts to engage with its business and industry communities, offer students job and work-related information and guidance to inform their choice of program and career, and provide extended education opportunities to fill the needs of almost all local residents. The five pillars provide services to accomplish these tasks.
- The Robert G. Freeman Center for Career and Completion helps students find job opportunities that interest them and then prepares them for job searches and interviews.
- Work-based Learning develops hands-on learning opportunities at local businesses for PCC students.
- Workforce Training develops and delivers customized training programs to meet the needs of individual businesses and organizations.
- The Small Business Development Center offers small business owners guidance, training, insights, and resources to start, build, or scale their enterprise.
- The PCC Extension service provides education and training options for anyone seeking to upskill their abilities, learn new skills, or just find new ways to enjoy their lives.
Together, the pillars work to achieve the two primary goals of the department while also fulfilling the state’s primary mandates:
- Connect PCC students with the businesses and industries that will provide them with well-paid jobs and careers, and
- Provide upskilling and training facilities and resources to improve the regional community workforce for the benefit of our enterprise partners.
The ultimate aim of the combined effort of these pillars is to facilitate the training and placement of a well-trained worker in a job of their choice with an employer who needs and appreciates the values they bring.
And With Intention
Engaged and informed EWD leadership is critical to the department’s success, and Executive Director Salvatrice Cummo is actively involved in the local and regional EWD community. Her work facilitates the regional relationships and agreements with industrial sectors and individual businesses that benefit both them and PCC’s student body.
Cummo sits on several workforce development boards and agencies, including the San Gabriel Valley Economic Partnership (SGVEP), Innovate Pasadena (IP), the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC), UNITE-LA, and the Foothill Workforce Development Board (FWDB).
She also contributes as an advisory committee member to the Center for a Competitive Workforce (CCW) and contributes insights to the development of LA’s regional innovation and marketing strategies.
Through these connections and with these resources, Cummo can gather information about developments within the local and regional industrial sectors, fluctuations in economics and economies, and emerging challenges and advantages. She uses this information to inform the PCC community about economic trends, opportunities for growth, and the need to apply innovation and creativity to the systems geared to achieving the school’s goals. Maximizing these resources using relevant, timely data and streamlining PCC’s ‘best practice’ services to meet the needs of all constituents ensures that the school provides the values they seek through an informed, intelligent, and achievable strategy.
The challenges posed by COVID-19’s disruptions are numerous and imposing. Throughout the ongoing pandemic, however, the leadership and staff at PCC’s EWD department demonstrated their capacity to pivot as needed, and the lessons they learned are sure to bring even more excellence in services and support for PCC’s student body as 2022 unfolds.