PCC’s Leader in Chief: Dr. Erika Endrijonas
Pam Sornson, JD
The recent emergence of the Los Angeles Regional Consortium (LARC) isn’t just a happy accident. In fact, it’s the result of a dedicated strategy to unify Los Angeles County’s 19 community colleges into a cohesive and comprehensive workforce development engine capable of producing the skilled workforce demanded by the County’s more than 240,000 businesses. Leading the strategy was/is Dr. Erika Endrijonas, Pasadena City College’s (PCC) Superintendent/President since January 2019. Her efforts were instrumental in birthing the LARC as a stand-alone agency, and will continue to be influential as PCC assumes the role of its fiscal agent. But, for Dr. Endrijonas, getting the LARC started is just one element of a much larger project.
Long Roots in Workforce Development
Dr. Endrijonas has been involved in workforce development programs for more than 20 years, starting with nine years as Dean of Educational Programs at Santa Barbara Community College (SBCC) in 2000. There, she was responsible for the 28 career and technical programs spread across three academic divisions. In addition, she wrote grants, built support programs and services, and managed the federal funding that facilitated education for many of the school’s underserved student populations. The experience generated her drive to improve student outcomes through quality workforce training, an impetus that subsequently propelled her through her tenure as Executive Vice President at Oxnard College (2009-2014) and President of Los Angeles Valley Community College (LAVC: 2014-2019).
As she began her work at LAVC, she also joined The Valley Economic Alliance and started developing relationships with local and regional businesses. As those partnerships progressed, Endrijonas continued to support holding regular Advisory Committee meetings with companies and industry representatives to ensure that the school’s curricula were meeting their needs. As a result, PCC’s Career Technical Education programs provide an education directly related to occupational requirements.
Over the years, her sharp focus on job and career development also opened her eyes to another reality: some students need more than just job training to succeed. Endrijonas built programs to respond to those needs, too:
She originated PCC’s Family Resource Center, modeled after the first ever Family Resource Center at LAVC, which provides the unique support and services needed by students who are also parents, such as playgroups, parenting resources, and child-friendly tutoring spaces.
She also launched the LAVC’s Strengthening Working Families Project, which directs its efforts at enhancing job and workforce training opportunities for working parents, particularly working mothers. In addition, this program recognizes the social and cultural challenges faced by many marginalized populations, so it offers mental health counseling in addition to job training to assist its students in transitioning into employment.
As she worked through these tenures, Dr. Endrijonas was honing her perspective of what a genuinely effective ‘workforce development program’ looked like and needed. And she was developing the complex skillset necessary to build one that connected all available resources – business, industry, education, and government – into a single, well-tooled ‘jobs and careers development’ hub. In 2019, an opportunity opened that facilitated her next step toward that goal: she accepted the position of Superintendent/President of PCC.
By 2019, PCC was already two years into laying the foundation of its Economic and Workforce Development division (EWD). It had four pillars in place and was working on its fifth:
Its Small Business Development Center (SBDC);
Its PCC Extension services offer job, career, and life skills training to employed and wanna-be-employed students of all ages;
Its workforce training initiative developed coursework and training opportunities for the workforces of local businesses, and
Its newly emerging Robert G. Freeman Center for Career and Completion aimed to be a nexus where employers and their future employees could meet.
Within that Center, the Work-Based Learning initiative was innovating new hands-on learning opportunities.
Endrijonas saw the expanding PCC EWD division as an excellent foundation on which to build her near-, mid-, and long-range workforce development strategies. Joining PCC also streamlined the scope of the work she intended to do. LAVC is one of nine community colleges within the LA Community College District. Consequently, launching new initiatives and endeavors was as much an effort of administrative heavy-lifting as it was an educational progress. PCC, on the other hand, is its own singular community college ‘district,’ so, administratively, getting things done wouldn’t require as much time or effort.
Since she began her role as its leader, she and her PCC colleagues have focused on furthering existing resources while devising innovative new responses to the workforce development challenge.
Pursuing the LARC
When Endrijonas joined PCC in 2019, the school was one of 28 community colleges in the combined Los Angeles Orange County Regional Consortium (LAOCRC), established in 2015. While initially thought to be an excellent arrangement, after several years, the many voices, perspectives, and goals of the members of the LAOCRC inhibited the development of a cohesive workforce development strategy across both counties.
When the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office (CCCCO) issued a grant opportunity in 2021 to fund significant workforce development within each CCC region, Endrijonas and her CEO colleague from Compton College, Dr. Keith Curry, saw that as the opportunity to sever the LA/OCRC into its two respective counties and allow each to proceed forward as an independent region. The LARC launched as a separate entity on January 1, 2022.
The emerging opportunity of the LARC simply broadens Endrijonas’s scope of PCC’s workforce development operations as its EWD’s 6th pillar. Before its launch, each regional school pursued its own individual path toward EWD programming, and there wasn’t much collaboration among them. Now, within the LARC, all schools will collaborate on building a county-wide workforce development resource that responds directly to county residents’ needs.
Employers will influence the nature of coursework to ensure PCC graduates have the necessary skills for employment.
Students will have the job, social, and personal resources they need to select and pursue a well-paid occupation that best suits their talents.
And all participants will be facilitating the State’s grand idea of harnessing its community colleges to build its workforce and its economy in the decades to come.
As the leader of both PCC and the LARC, Dr. Erika Endrijonas has some big projects on her hands. Fortunately, she also has the tools, skillset, and experience to do the work.
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