The Center for a Competitive Workforce: Building Tomorrow’s Labor Force

Pam Sornson, JD

For several years, California has led the nation with its forward-thinking college education goals. Seeking to maximize existing investments in its community colleges, in 2016, the State mandated a new vision for those facilities for training the next and future generations of workers. For the project to succeed, however, the State also needed the cooperation of its business and industrial communities to inform schools about preferred skills and knowledge. The potential partnership invited equal investment of time and money from California’s diverse industrial complex but offered the enticement of a well-trained, ever-growing ‘skilled worker’ talent pool for any business willing to contribute to the effort.

Fortunately, community buy-in by both schools and companies was immediate and heartfelt. Four years on, the resulting Center for a Competitive Workforce has evolved into a unique, creative, and – most importantly – productive collaboration between educators and business leaders. Their combined efforts will ensure that California’s community college students gain the skills and knowledge needed to do the work their future employers require. The Center is led by Richard Verches and housed within the LA Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC), and its work engages both colleges and businesses in the work of building the State’s economy.



On the College Side:  One Clear “Vision for Success”

The California Community Colleges (CCC) organization has wholeheartedly embraced the philosophy of ‘education for career’s sake.’ Its 115 schools serve over 2 million students annually, providing career and job skills for millions of workers. The CCC has embraced a singular focus – a Vision for Success – as the primary goal of each of its 115 members: to ensure that students from all backgrounds can succeed in reaching their goals and improving their future, their families, and the communities in which they live.

To achieve that goal, each school must evaluate and respond to the current realities of their individual community college student population:

Too many students attend college classes but never graduate or complete a full course of study.

Those who do complete their program often take five to six years to achieve that milestone, taking – and paying for – too many excess and irrelevant credits.

Non-traditional students – those who also work or are beyond the typical age of most college students – face financial and social barriers simply because they don’t fit the ‘standard’ student profile.

Each of these circumstances drives college costs higher and reduce the possible returns on the college investment by both students and the tax-paying public. And they are all exacerbated by socially driven inequities caused by economics, race, and social status that erode the higher education opportunity for too many students in all regions of the State.

The Vision for Success seeks to remedy these challenges so that every member school can offer an affordable education that will support a comfortable lifestyle for each of its students in the career of their choice.


Education for Career’s Sake

The CCC also engages with local and regional industries to assist with course design and curriculum development, so that schools are teaching the skills that their business neighbors require. That effort is coordinated through its Workforce and Economic Development Division (WEDD), which produces labor market research about the desirable job skills needed in each industry.

Programs designed by the WEDD address opportunities for both students and potential employers, such as:

the California Adult Education Program (CAEP);

the California Apprenticeship Initiative (CAI);

Strengthening Career and Technical Education (Perkins V);

Economic and Workforce Development, and

the Strong Workforce Program (SWP), among others.

With research and community data in hand, California’s community colleges can reorganize their resources so their students can attain both their educational and career goals.


On the Business Side:  The Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation

Providing comprehensive career courses means schools must teach what businesses need students to know. Founded in 1981, the LAEDC harnesses its private industry and government resources to guide economic development and generate a more prosperous community for all its constituents. Member businesses come from all industries and sectors, providing a rich and comprehensive perspective of the region as a whole. Los Angeles is home to many thriving industries that create and sustain well-paying jobs, and there’s tremendous opportunity for that growth to continue. Together, LAEDC and its corporate partners have worked to build out the feeder industries and supply chains that keep its communities prosperous and sustainable.

With these resources and experience as guides, industry and civic leaders can create policies and practices that will benefit the entire region. One of these practices is the fostering of the relationships between its corporate entities and its educational system. The LAEDC recognizes that up-skilling the regional workforce is the key to future profitability and prosperity, so it created the Center for a Competitive Workforce to develop those capacities.


The Center for a Competitive Workforce

The CCW fosters the regular engagement between LA’s 19 regional community colleges and businesses engaged in the area’s high-growth industrial sectors. These industrial sectors are populated by both well-established companies and entrepreneurial endeavors, have a high need for a skilled labor force, and require workers with polished middle skills and abilities. Interactions between the schools and these industries allow both sides to inform the work of the other, permitting schools to develop the programs and courses that will create a well-skilled workforce.

The CCW pursues several workstreams, each of which provides unique information and insights for all CCW participants, including:

Labor Market Analysis;

Industry Councils;

Regional Program Advisory Meetings;

Work-Based Learning Partnerships;

Company Visits and Career Videos;

Workforce and Education Partners Portal, and

a Bioscience Industry Portal.

For colleges, the CCW publishes ‘playbooks’ that offer ‘industry-education’ insights about the relationships building between the LAEDC and the region’s community colleges. Those playbooks provide faculty, school leadership, and industry participants about their workplace counterparts, and pave the way for internships and other work-based learning opportunities. The ensuing partnerships create pipelines of skilled talent accessible by companies seeking workers, based on industrial demands, and populated by local community members.

So far (it’s been a scant four years), the collaboration between the California Community Colleges and the LA Economic Development Corporation is proving advantageous to both entities. Their ‘progeny’ – the Center for a Competitive Workforce – is now leading the way for both schools and businesses to contribute equally to California’s ever-expanding economy.






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