Five Pillars: One PCC EWD

By Pam Sornson, JD

The phrase “workforce development” suggests a myriad of images, from an on-site training session to a planning meeting for a future project. At its heart, however, is the notion that every person who wants to work should be able to work to the best of their ability. 

At Pasadena City College (PCC), ‘workforce development’ means providing the education and supports that every student needs to find their way to the occupation of their choice. The department is built on four central ‘pillars’ that form its foundation and streamline its focus on improving student outcomes through occupationally based initiatives:

its Robert G. Freeman Center for Career and Completion (Freeman Center), 

its Work-based Learning initiative, 

its Small Business Development Center

its Workforce Training initiative, and

its PCC Extension, which provides enrichment education for learners from all walks of life, regardless of their intent to find work related to their learning. 


Each pillar provides guidance and resources directed toward a specific element of the workforce development strategy:

Support from the Freeman Center ensures that PCC students have everything they need to persist through their college experience and to land the jobs they want, and 

Work-based Learning gives PCC students hands-on learning and experience in the occupation of their choice;

Experts at the Small Business Development Center offer business and development help to the area’s companies (including those that train and hire PCC graduates), so they can meet their corporate goals.

Workforce Training programs provide basic and upskilling training for potential and existing employees of the region’s employers and companies. 

The PCC Extension shares PCC educational resources with its greater community through online courses. An extensive catalog provides learners of any age or capability with access to work and personal interest-based programs so that they can pursue their educational aspirations at their own pace.       


Understanding how each pillar functions gives readers some insights into the purpose of the EWD and the values it brings to the Pasadena economic region. 


The Robert G. Freeman Career Center

Choosing a career can be difficult for students who are unsure of their aspirations, talents, or skills. The Freeman Center counselors help connect students to those personal assets, then point them toward jobs and careers where their talents can shine. But the Center also offers so much more:

assistance to find resources that respond to the many social, family, and personal barriers experienced by so many potential learners. 

Ongoing support as students labor through their coursework and 

assistance finding on-the-job training opportunities, so learners attain needed hands-on skills in addition to classroom theories.


The Freeman Center resources have helped countless PCC students identify, work towards, and achieve their occupational and professional goals.


Work-based Learning (WBL)

‘Work-based learning’ is precisely what its name describes: providing on-the-job training in conjunction with classroom lessons so that learners gain a broader understanding of the work they’re planning to do, perhaps for the rest of their lives. This business/education partnership represents a ‘best practice’ for many jobs and professions. The students gain needed preparatory skills before actually landing the job; the businesses can train future workers to their exact specifications, and the school can graduate not just students but workers into the regional economy. In the last Academic year, 2019-2020, the Office of WBL added 45 committed community entities to its roster of community partners. 

PCC’s WBL efforts focus on three themes:

increasing student achievements, so they persist through to the end of and complete their educational program;

facilitating access to technical skills that are best taught in a hands-on setting, through apprenticeships, internships, and other on-the-job opportunities, and

enhancing student employability, so learners finish their schooling with both credentials and a job lined up.


The Small Business Development Center (SBDC)

The SBDC offers workshops, one-on-one consulting, venture development, and training to both students and any area business looking to improve its operations and outcomes. It connects PCC students with companies to develop training and mentoring opportunities and helps businesses create the internal practices and assets they need to thrive in today’s challenging economy. 

Structured around four primary programs, the SBDC is a resource for cutting-edge business and industry information designed to meet the needs fo virtually anyone who seeks financial success through productive and rewarding work:

PCC Venture Launch

This 10-week program facilitates the testing of potentially viable business models by exploring both theory and hands-on practices. Free to PCC students, it creates the real-world pressures and demands facing today’s start-up companies and allows attendees to experience both success and failure in a safe, testing-only situation. 

The Gig Economy Program

The ‘gig’ economy is driven by those thousands of independent contractors who perform critical services outside of an employer/employee relationship. While currently in development for 2022, the inaugural 2016-2018 program gave students insights into the demands and expectations of this economic development style, the benefits it offers, and the challenges it poses. 

Biz Ed Workshops

These informational workshops and seminars help people turn their excellent product and service ideas into successful businesses. They provide the corporate leadership training that encompasses the guts of today’s mandated workforce standards, including taxation, HR management, regulatory compliance, etc. 

1:1 Consulting

Perhaps its most popular service, the 1:1 consulting services offered by the SBDC’s many business and industry experts give company owners in-depth analysis and support for their unique challenges and problems. Grant funding pays those consultation fees, too, so PCC’s business community can access this resource at no cost.  



Workforce Training 

This innovative program offers businesses the opportunity to train and upskill their workers using PCC teaching and facility resources. Tailored to meet the needs of the adult learners as well as their employers, Workforce Training provides both credited and non-credited courses to polish today’s highest demand skills, including technical competence, business innovation, leadership, and customer services. 

Four fundamental facets round out the Workforce Training module: 

The Employment Training Panel

The EWD acts as a contractor for the ‘ETP,’ which is a funding source that helps to pay for the upskilling and training of California’s workers.

ETP Contract Training

This ‘Just in Time’ training strategy maximizes ETP funds and facilitates workforce training opportunities on the PCC campus. The practice eliminates the need for in-house training by our community business partners. 

California Training Initiative

In conjunction with the California Workforce Association, the EWD delivers training to a variety of local employers. 


These two federally funded programs – Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) and I-TRAIN, the Job Training and Education Information Network – subsidize students’ efforts to find and engage with an appropriate training program, including those whose jobs have been displaced due to foreign trade.   



PCC Extension

Whether students are looking to upskill for their job or just learn a new skill in their free time, PCC’s Extension offers a myriad of programs designed to fill those diverse needs. Reading programs, online youth courses, and even programs aimed at America’s military families are just a click away.


Unfortunately, today’s sprawling educational systems aren’t structured to ensure that every possible learner achieves their precise and very personal work and career goals. Instead, legacy training programs are too often corraled into out-dated (albeit well-meaning) protocols that were designed to meet now-irrelevant needs. And, in addition to being obsolete, irrelevant, or both, many potential learners aren’t even able to access these opportunities due to time, financial, or other social constraints. Consequently, society suffers the loss of priceless human resource values as viable and eager workers are stalled in their work-seeking efforts. 

Pasadena City College’s Economic and Workforce Development department (PCC EWD) aims to reverse these legacy practices and facilitate every aspiring worker’s education and training. Its four pillars provide a robust mix of training and experience so that its students, its local and regional business community, and its greater economic community can all thrive. 

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