Meet Richard Verches: Part II
With only two years on the job, Richard Verches is bringing his stellar legal, humanitarian, and business acumen to his work as the Executive Director of the Center for a Competitive Workforce (CCW), a program of the LA Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC). What’s been especially notable is how well that background supports his pivot to incorporate COVID-19 fall-out and concerns into his long-range strategy for the region.
New Focus; New Strategies
When starting his work in the Executive role at the CCW, Verches was presented with three immediate challenges:
- Streamlining the work of its previous ‘leader’ – not a person but a consortium of education and business executives – into a more unified strategic plan. He could then build on their good work while introducing his own unique perspective to the effort.
- Structuring his conversations with educators and industries. Traditionally, community colleges weren’t designed to produce the workforce envisioned by the Center, so their existing infrastructure didn’t embrace neighboring businesses’ labor demands. At the same time, local companies weren’t in the habit of looking to their local colleges for hiring purposes. Without their input, the schools wouldn’t know what programs to offer.
- Bringing together the disparate resources of the 19 schools, the many industries, and the numerous governmental agencies that span the Los Angeles region. With a population of 20 million, Verches is acutely aware of the many, many perspectives that his Center will have to consider.
Verches was also aware of an innate bias toward four-year schools as the means to a successful career. That bias inhibited many potential students from even considering attending any higher education school.
Steps Forward …
His first step was to develop a series of ‘playbooks,’ one per industry, that collected data relevant to both the schools and the businesses. Verches had noted that schools with similar types of programs were graduating students with vastly different skill sets; there was no consistency of outcomes even when the subject matters were the same. He designed the playbooks to reduce those inconsistencies and get everyone – schools and businesses – on the same educational page.
The playbooks themselves provide insights into how LA County’s economy functions by identifying all existing industries and then highlighting those with the highest likelihood of growth. It is these high-growth jobs that Verches is targeting as those that the colleges can embrace:
High growth occupations promise future economic gains and stability.
Most require ‘middle skills,’ beyond entry-level, but not requiring an advanced degree. Most community college students can excel in these occupations.
With employer inputs, the schools can tailor their programs to teach exactly what is needed, for a reasonable cost and in a reasonable time frame.
Verches also works with schools to develop the social and other supports needed by many community college students to overcome cultural and economic barriers to their higher education goals.
… Leading to Solutions
The playbooks respond to the first two of Verches’ challenges: they create a single ‘version of truth’ that all education and workforce development partners can use. They also facilitate ongoing conversations about the partnership of economic development and education with the business community.
To resolve the third challenge, how to communicate across a vast geographical region and a highly differentiated population, CCW had committed to using the latest technology and tools even before the sudden disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic. All meetings have been transitioned to virtual meetings with record levels of attendance by both faculty and employers.
He almost immediately noted that these increased communications were building more collaboration between industry cohorts and school programs. While businesses and schools have historically acted in ‘friendly’ competition with other companies and colleges, the Strong Workforce Program included a mandate for a more ‘collaborative model’ of regional coordination and alignment, that is in the interest of both business and schools.
Notably, the enhanced communications strategy also eliminated many of the connection barriers experienced by so many as the pandemic forced people to stay home. While many entities struggled to get virtual communications channels online and open, the CCW and its community partners already had trusted relationships and infrastructure in place to seamlessly transition. Consequently, as the crisis continues to grip the LA basin, in the CCW, there is a recognized regional process and platform to address COVID-specific issues. The solutions they achieve support their shared vision and approach to identifying where LA’s economy is most impacted, addressing those unique the challenges, and contemplating longer-range solutions to the inevitable employment and industry collapses that COVID is causing.
In Verches’ opinion, the fact that the economy-building conversation was already ongoing as the pandemic struck allowed industry and education leaders to be much more intentional and mindful about their shared and individual roles related to long-term solutions than they would have been before this very unique moment in time.
The COVID-19 challenge also underscores the significance of California’s vision of connecting its colleges directly to its economic future. Because of this project, those systems are already in flux, evolving to meet these new, economy-based demands. Pivoting to address the additional problems caused by COVID will better position the State to respond to immediate stresses caused by the disease (unemployment, healthcare, etc.) while also developing the infrastructure needed to manage future pandemics and disasters.
And on top of that, perhaps most closely aligned with his humanitarian spirit, Verches sees the work of the Center as an opportunity to achieve the fundamental goal of democracy: providing a safe and inclusive environment where any person can access opportunities and resources to attain an economically viable, affordable education and obtain a financially stable, self-sustaining and fulfilling job. Throughout his career, Richard Verches has focused on developing this ideal; his work with the Center for a Competitive Workforce provides him with a unique opportunity to shepherd it to its fruition.
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