Insights, Information, Inspiration: Lessons from Our ‘FoW’ Experts

Pam Sornson, JD

The Panelists, keynotes, and sponsor speakers at Pasadena City College’s 2nd annual Future of Work Conference, “Advancing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Workforce Development,” shared a host of perspectives, experiences, and insights about how work might get done as we move deeper into the 21st Century. While the conversation touched on many topics related to employment, jobs development, economic factors, and social realities, it was loosely directed toward exploring possible responses to three critical questions:

How do we manage COVID-19 concerns?

Are there ‘best practices’ for workforce development solutions?

How do diversity and inclusion affect today’s and tomorrow’s workforce, employment, and economic opportunities?

The panel discussion encompassed thoughts on these topics while adding nuance and perspective to each, based on the speaker and their role in the economic and workforce development community.

In addition to the panel discussion, our PCC Superintendent/President, sponsor’s representative, and two keynote speakers offered their insights about what employment, jobs, diversity, and workforce development mean for the economy of the community and country. Their inputs added extra color and depth to the overall day.


A Word from Our Superintendent/President

Dr. Erika Endrijonas

Lending her full support to Salvatrice Cummo, who spearheads PCC’s EWD initiatives, Dr. Erika Endrijonas is PCC’s leading champion for career and workforce development efforts, noting that California’s community colleges aim 50% of their effort toward economic and workforce development mandates. She also stated that, while unemployment is currently high and that many jobs won’t be coming back, she’s confident that new jobs will replace those lost and that the future’s more diverse and inclusive workforce will be able to drive everyone’s growing economic success.


A Word From Our Sponsor – Verizon

Jesus Roman, VP of Government Affairs & Community Engagement at Verizon

As a leader in a company engaged in, perhaps, the world’s predominant industry, telecommunications, Mr. Roman is very aware of the power of digital connectivity and its impact on the future of both the global economy and global workforce development efforts. He noted that the telecom giant is already deeply involved in projects that offer internet services to underserved populations.

He is also rightfully proud of Verizon’s admirable inclusive policies and practices, including ensuring pay equity across all its systems. Mr. Roman shared that the evolving 5G network brings with it significant opportunities not just for improved communications but also as a generator of jobs and careers. Verizon will be looking for qualified workers to deliver those new services to anyone who needs them.


Our First Keynote Speaker

Josh Davies, CEO – Center for Work Ethic Development

Our first keynote speaker immediately engaged everyone with his distillation of how 2020 has disrupted traditional occupational expectations:

It has probably permanently eliminated many jobs (he suggests as many as 42% of previous employment options will not be coming back).

It’s causing us to redefine ’employment,’ with many companies shifting away from a full-time workforce to part-time and ‘gig’ workers.

The biggest economic power brokers are getting bigger, so an ever-decreasing number of people are gaining ever-increasing levels of ownership and control of global resources.

These three factors are causing significant disruptions in the country’s four-year education systems.


He also suggests ways for educators to prepare their learners for future opportunities:

Stop training for repetitive jobs, which are being assumed by automated machines.

Provide training that develops ‘high-touch’ skills: those human capabilities to think critically and solve problems.

Evolve apprenticeships beyond the trades, and diversify the apprentice pool to include more women.

Generate workforce assets based on skills, not degrees. Skills are applicable in many jobs; degrees, not so much.

Make life-long learning the norm. Every job evolves, so educators must offer upskilling and extended training to ensure the opportunity to achieve better economic growth.


Our Second Keynote Speaker

Sheneui Weber, Vice-Chancellor of Workforce and Economic Development at the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office

Ms. Weber discussed how the COVID-19 lockdown disrupted so many lives, especially for those students who didn’t have an online learning option, either because of connectivity issues or other significant social factors that prevented continuing studies after campuses closed. She also noted other pre-existing factors that exacerbated the problems:

The coronavirus revealed the gaps and holes that currently exist in community social safety nets, including how higher ed systems have largely left out adult learners as well as other underserved populations.

Other gaps are caused by how businesses and corporate capitalization systems are currently structured and how those structures reduce people’s value while elevating the value of money.

Financial systems also contribute to some underserved populations’ inability to access educational resources, and

the digital divide continues to grow wider.


However, according to Ms. Weber, the State of California is taking steps to mitigate these concerns by:

developing a Racial Equity Task Force to address these concerns.

looking for resources to build businesses that are ‘social enterprises,‘ combining the passion and compassion found in non-profit work with the drive for economic success found in the for-profit sector.

And she emphasizes the importance of digital competence to economic growth, urging listeners to look closely at and seek solutions for the digital disparities that occur in their communities.

She concluded by encouraging all attendees to make the most of COVID’s disruptive capacity to address and alleviate the challenges it revealed.


The Panel Discussion

Our panelists offered a broad scope of ideas, suggestions, and factual realities regarding economic and workforce efforts, based on their careers and their work. It was a lively and enlightening discussion.


From A Government Perspective

Reg Javier, CA Employment Training Panel (ETA)

Regarding the virus, Mr. Javier noted that virus concerns brought an unexpected bonus that his agency will build upon: the ‘virtual meeting participation’ opportunity led to higher attendance at agency meetings than before, opening an engagement option he intends to pursue. On the downside, while the ETA has been swamped with requests for funds for covid-related training, it’s also struggled with how to allocate those resources. Does it cover costs to keep workers’ employed’ for now? Or is it better to fund opportunities for future jobs when they become available?

Regarding workforce development, Mr. Javier discussed how some populations aren’t ready yet for ‘career training’ because they don’t have the underlying skills needed to succeed in that educational endeavor. When it arose earlier in his career, his solution for that problem was to develop a talent pipeline that began at a much earlier academic stage, at the middle or high school level. Introducing potential job and career opportunities at this age lets kids know what’s available, contemplate what choices they might make, and plan to achieve those foundational skills, so they are ready to tackle their actual job training program.


From a Corporate Perspective

Erica Jacques, Executive Director of External and Government Affairs at Verizon

The COVID pandemic ‘changed things’ for Verizon. As it emerged, the company focused its outreach efforts by providing micro-grants to small businesses to help them survive the closures and sales slumps. It then also pivoted to providing resources and support to communities affected by the co-occurring wildfires and earthquakes.

During the year, one thing became abundantly clear: the lack of reliable connectivity negatively affected too many people as they worked to cope with their particular situation. Verizon provided more than one response to that concern by offering community partners ‘hot spots’ so locals could access the Internet from where they were. These ‘locals’ included both the first responders working in remote locations where the need was greatest, as well as the one-in-five students with no home-based internet services. The company worked hard to provide as many services as possible to help mitigate these problems and move toward solutions.

Looking forward, she noted that many young people are not following a traditional college or trade path, and she’s concerned about helping them, too.


Clayton Pryor, Director of Workforce Development, Advocate Aurora Health (AAH)

The health sector was impacted in numerous ways by the COVID-19 pandemic, and AAH made many accommodations to respond to the needs of both its patients and staff. The crisis accelerated the company’s use of emerging IT to remain connected while also informing it about IT=related skills and abilities it will need in its future workforce.

Those factors will influence the work AAH is already doing to develop its incoming workers’ skill base. It is creating pipelines of middle and entry-level healthcare jobs by building partnerships with both businesses and technology schools, with an emphasis on the clinical side of the industry. It’s also providing micro-grants to community healthcare businesses that can provide training on that clinical side.

Mr. Pryor also noted the need to provide pre-career-prep education opportunities. He sees many benefits in taking a multipronged approach to that problem:

COVID revealed opportunities to innovate how people access learning.

Collaboration among schools, businesses, and industries will benefit all three plus the students they support.

He further emphasized the need for both industry and business leaders to keep the schools informed about what their needs are going to be.


Donald Bradburn, Director of Workforce Planning and Development, Kaiser Permanente

Regarding diversity and inclusion, Mr. Bradburn discussed KP’s intentional efforts to ensure all aspects of its business are actively engaged in welcoming the talents and skills of all potential workers, including those of their partners and third-party contractors. He noted a particular strategy that connects workers newly released from detention with healthcare facility construction projects. The healthcare giant also requires its partners and community members to build in apprenticeships wherever possible. And not insignificantly, KP has just opened its new medical school to expand the diversity of the professional healthcare population. It also reduced the cost of that education to eliminate cost as a barrier and facilitate access to an even broader scope of potential future doctors, nurses, etc.

Kaiser is also looking at other ways to improve its business by improving the lives of its workers and customers:

It’s revising how it views its current work staff, with an eye to upskill already valuable employees. For example, the unsung housekeeping staff is also the front-line infection control team. The company considered how those skills build in a logical progression into sterile processing, which, in turn, builds into the next level of corporate infection controls. By continually moving people up, Kaiser retains its valued worker, building loyalty and skills along the way.

Technology also offered the opportunity to expand existing worker skills. Many of the KP patients weren’t particularly adept at connecting through their devices. KP trained its front-end staff to work with those patients to improve their technology skills so they could better access their health care services.

And, the company is moving forward with its ‘drive through lab’ experiment, which would speed services while also (hopefully) reduce the risks that arise in crowded waiting rooms. That project is in the pilot stage, as they contemplate how to ensure sterility while performing ‘car side’ injections and other services.


From a Policy Shaper Perspective

Tamar Jacoby, CEO – Opportunity America

Ms. Jacoby believes that COVID accelerated the demand to define and construct the ‘future of work’ so its innovations are available today, not tomorrow. She suggests that community colleges should look at themselves as the focal point for the future of career education and begin establishing their ‘ownership’ of the concept and the space. To emphasize her point, she notes that ‘career tech’ graduates can earn a very good living (up to $100,000 per year) and that publicizing that fact would attract more potential students.

She also asserts that the development of ‘soft skills,’ most notably, teaching the critical thinking skills necessary for solving problems, should be embedded in all career tech education programs. And she believes that more diversity in all programs, especially apprenticeship programs, would be an excellent development. Hurdles to overcome on that trajectory include lack of access to learning opportunities and existing teaching strategies that don’t accommodate many of life’s realities, such as needing to work full time or care for one’s family.

Ms. Jacoby noted that Opportunity America addresses these concerns and offers possible solutions in its recent 2020 study, “The Indispensable Institution: Reimagining Community College.


Dr. Darlene Miller, National Council for Workforce Education (NCWE)

Ms. Miller’s thought is that conversations about equity must also include adult students, whose needs are often overlooked in favor of younger learners. Many of them also are lower-skilled, either because of social circumstances or perhaps because of their immigration status. Many working adults lack fundamental literacy and numeracy skills in addition to lacking digital tools. They, too, need the same types of remedial interventions to access career training opportunities.

However, according to research, older workers often experience the same barriers as younger students, including the inability to attend traditionally scheduled classes, class unavailability in general, and challenges with obtaining the funding and transportation resources needed to attend school.

Dr. Miller encourages community colleges to consider building new pathways that address and overcome these barriers.


Dr. D’Artagnan Scorza, Social Justice Learning Institute

Dr. Scorza agreed that many of his constituents also suffer because they don’t have the fundamental skills needed even to begin a career training program. Accordingly, the SJLI provides training and soft-skill-building programs to teach these necessary skills to the economically challenged youth in its communities. He says they start ‘where the student is’ and funnel their learners through the fundamentals and into the pipelines that will eventually feed the community colleges with learners ready to learn.

Dr. Scorza notes that the SJLI enjoys collaborative partnerships with several local universities that support these and other critical social programs. Those schools have programs that aim at assisting these populations into the career path pipelines, such as Paths-Up, UofC’s Early Academic Outreach Program, and the Upward Bound Program offered by the U.S. Department of Education. He adds that the University of California at Riverside also launched a medical school designed specifically to train ethnically diverse health care professionals. More students need to know about these options, he says, and the training they need to qualify for them.

Also crucial to this work, he notes, are the businesses and business associations that can structure their activities to meet these needs. The Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation is just one example.


The Wrap Up


The event co-moderators also offered some significant insights. Co-host Ramona Schindelheim, Editor-in-Chief of WorkingNation, encouraged everyone to look at 2020 as a teaching tool. “We’ve been here before,” she says,  “and we can move forward.” Co-Host Salvatrice Cummo, Executive Director of PCC’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development department, encouraged panelists and audience members to look carefully at their sector to determine who’s being left out? Who is included? How can we address inequality while also rebuilding our economy?

Other suggestions for possible next steps included:

Redefining certifications by skill sets, not by program titles.

Being open to developing new ways to teach existing and emerging skill sets. Technology skills will be critical, and those apply in many job settings.

Recognizing the ‘currency’ value of a degree and use that mindset to define a new ‘currency’ title for skill sets that transfer across several occupations.

Broadening the scope to include learners of all ages and from all locations. Rural communities are often overlooked but have the same needs and assets as any other community.


The FOW Conference was successful on many fronts:

It’s digital Zoom platform performed flawlessly, eliminating the health and transport challenges that would have prevented the gathering and kept attendees away.

Its subject matter was timely and necessary. Everyone is affected by an economy, so the performance of a community’s workforce affects every member of that community – local, regional, national, and global.

The expert analysis and optimistic perspectives of its participants provide guidance, leadership, and hope, providing listeners with strategies to move forward and tools they can use to make a difference where they share their expertise and influence.

Ms. Cummo summed it up nicely: “As we gain control over the pandemic and look to the future, we must use our workforce development strategies to attain our ultimate goal: achieving recovery with equity, and through a lens of optimism.”





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