Industry-Academia Partnerships: Engaging for Everyone’s Future

Pam Sornson, JD

There are significant differences between what and how one learns in the classroom versus what and how one learns in a real-world job. Marrying the two – providing both classroom and real-world experience during a single training season – offers the best opportunity for a student learner to evolve into a future employee. This ‘industry-academia’ partnership provides excellent benefits for both entities: the students receive invaluable job training and experience while the business gains an additional worker and contributes to the knowledge base of the course or program. 

At Pasadena City College (PCC), the Economic and Workforce Development department (EWD) connects with local businesses and industries to find on-the-job training opportunities for its students. It also assists those businesses to tune up their internal processes, upskill their workforce, and strategize their growth trajectory. In this role, the college is playing its part in growing California’s economy beyond the COVID-19 recovery and into a much brighter future.  


Theory vs. Practice

Even the best designed coursework can’t impart the wisdom gained from hands-on doing. Classroom parameters of space, materials, budget, etc., constrain the lesson by ‘building in’ the problem-solving process. In a real-world setting, the complexity of the activity, its environment, and the multiple variables influencing its outcome are rarely so constrained. Furthermore, achieving an appropriate outcome in the real world requires applying a broader set of skills, many of which don’t develop in the classroom. So even though the professor can impart the full value of the theories behind the work, it takes hands-on practices in the field to develop a fully fleshed-out skill base. 


How Companies Inform PCC’s EWD

PCC’s EWD focuses its attention on building the industry-academia partnerships that will best support its student population, and consequently, its business and industry neighbors. Within the region are a wide variety of industries, including (to name just a few) finance, academics, healthcare, and engineering, all of which utilize the products of the individual companies involved in their sector. The skills needed by these companies are the skills PCC is working to instill in its students. 

On the flip side, each of these businesses requires a skilled workforce to remain competitive, and those skill sets are becoming increasingly more complex. The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated just how much technology impacts day-to-day functions. Those enterprises that have thrived through the crisis are also often the ones with the most advanced technology and the best-skilled workers. As communities re-open, more workers will need to obtain those advanced skills to find work in the newly emerging economy. PCC is determined to provide those workforce training opportunities.  

Working with individual businesses or industry collectives, EWD leadership can identify the employment trends, industry directives, and economic opportunities that will inform its curricula and program development. Those programs and courses will provide learners with the foundations they need to develop excellent work skills and qualify for a well-paying job in the industry of their choice.   


Share Resources with PCC

To advance these partnerships even further, the PCC EWD actively seeks local business partners to participate in learning and training sessions in the classroom, on campus, and in the community. Depending on the work, the company, and the industry, corporate leaders are encouraged to share their knowledge with their local college students by participating in one or more work-based learning activities sponsored by the college. In return, students bring to their ’employer’ the work-related skills they’ve learned in life or at PCC’s Freeman Career Center:


No one knows an industry better than the people who work within it. Remaining competitive requires understanding how the system is evolving and changing and adapting to the new iterations. PCC places high value on the experience and perceptions of industry experts who share their insights with the school to develop a better experience for its students. The advisory committee is the place where this magic happens.  


Who better to teach than the master of the craft? Apprentices work alongside master artisans and skilled business people to learn the unique techniques, skills, and theories that make their products and services exceptional. Typically lasting one to three years, apprenticeships allow business owners to develop a student worker to become a uniquely qualified and highly valued employee.  


The shorter termed internships – one to six months – offer a different service to the company, often providing extra hands and eyes to get more work done in a shorter timeframe. However, the role offers the student an equally valuable experience to the apprenticeship by exposing them to real-world work conditions and requiring real-world work effort. 


How PCC’s EWD Informs Companies

PCC isn’t passive in its interactions with its industry partners, either. As per California state mandates, PCC is evolving into a workforce development engine, creating the workforce training programs and support that its economic community needs to thrive. These services come in many forms, all of which are designed to provide the business with exactly the support it needs to overcome COVID and other economic barriers and grow into the new economy.  


The COVID-19 pandemic irrevocably changed how the world works, and many companies are struggling with upskilling their existing labor force to remain competitive. PCC can assist in that endeavor by providing many of the resources that companies need but frequently do not have – training space, materials, time, and professional teaching access. The Workforce Training service customizes its effort to respond to specific company needs, helping it achieve the improved skill base its workers need without excessive expense or investment.


The SBDC provides expert inputs and advice on all things related to ‘business,’ including human resource management, financial management, entrepreneurship, and more. Its roster of experienced business owners and industry leaders volunteer their time to help small, start-up, and mid-sized companies evolve to meet the times and grow to meet emerging opportunities. These seasoned veterans understand the difference between classroom instruction and hands-on learning and happily help their clients achieve their highest corporate goals. 


The economy is recovering after COVID, and all businesses must adapt to new realities to retain their market share and capture emerging opportunities. At the same time, newly unemployed workers need retraining and new skills to find work in that emerging economy. The industry-academia partnership opportunities developed by PCC’s EWD offer an optimal situation to combine classroom and work-based learning into a single, formidable education opportunity. The services assist community partner companies to achieve their aspirations while also helping PCC students in their quest to enter the labor force. 


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