The Future of Work Needs Higher College Enrollment Numbers

Pam Sornson, JD

November 15, 2022

The Future of Work Conference (FOW) held at Pasadena City College (PCC) on November 8th, 2022, and hosted by its Economic and Workforce Development division (EWD), was a spectacular success when measured against its intended goal. Panelists and speakers from all sectors of the EWD environment presented clear and relevant insights in response to the challenges now faced by California’s Community College and Higher Education systems. The conference’s overarching message should be of value to anyone interested in pursuing an improved economy by building a well-trained, future-focused labor force.

 

Collaboration Will Be Key …

As noted by Dr. Erica Endrijonas in her welcoming comments, now is one of life’s “rubber meets the road” kind of moments. Empowered by statute, policy, and funding, the California Community College system (CCC) is uniquely positioned to rise in response to the imposing economic and social challenges emerging as the COVID pandemic recedes.

As PCC’s President and Superintendent of the PCC District, Dr. Endrijonas presides over a county-wide network of educational institutions and state and regionally based mandates. PCC is the designated coordinator of the Los Angeles Regional Consortium (LARC), a collaboration of the County’s 19 community colleges. In that role, the school – and especially its EWD division – is working to coordinate countywide efforts to streamline educational systems that meet the labor force demands of regional businesses and industries. Launched just in January 2022, the newly established LARC is now processing the immense volume of accumulated data related to those efforts as it sets itself as the “go-to data resource” for the County’s education, workforce, labor, and industry sectors.

PCC, the LARC, and their EWD colleagues across the County are now working at crafting several variations of workforce and occupational ‘rubber’ that will drive the region’s industrial engines forward on its economic recovery ‘road.’

 

… With Everyone at the Table …

The exceptional talent that populated the day’s roster of panelists indicates the value their agencies place on this discussion. Moderated by Jessica Ku Kim, the Chief Deputy of the Department of Economic Opportunity for the County of Los Angeles (who knows a thing or two about workforce development on a macro scale), the panel’s expertise spanned visionary endeavor to large government investment. A PCC alum and entrepreneur and representatives from Los Angeles County (LAC), the California Community Colleges Chancellors Office (CCCCO), PCC, and the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC) each provided their unique perspectives on how these issues are impacting the work that they do. Their comments reflected how their agency or effort is or will be addressing these critical concerns.

 

… Talking About: Declining Enrollment

The declining enrollment numbers across California’s higher ed systems are of particular concern to all. For schools, fewer students also means fewer resources with which to build and sustain high-quality programming. For businesses and industries, fewer students mean a smaller and less qualified workforce with which to generate future growth. For the government, fewer students may mean reduced state revenues and a higher future demand for social services. Each of the five panelists offered their particular input on this topic:

Will Walls

The perspective of panelist Will Walls is particularly unique; he was a nontraditional student and is a PCC graduate and entrepreneur. His personal experience informed this response. As a new student, he was at a complete loss when he first entered the campus, not knowing where to go or how to start. In his words, “students don’t know what they don’t know. Schools need to do better at informing potential and returning students of all available options and opportunities.”

Dr. Micah Young

Dr. Micah Young, PCC’s Dean of Health Sciences, responded with his own question: how effective is the faculty in connecting its work to achieving student goals? Dr. Young believes that a close interface between teacher and student can enhance the student’s experience and encourage further attendance.

Sandra Sanchez

As interim vice chancellor of the CCCCO, Sandra Sanchez oversees the state-based Strong Workforce Program (SWP), the California Apprenticeship Initiative, and the California Adult Education Program, among many others. She revealed that the Chancellor’s office is changing regulations and developing new data-based policies to facilitate the introduction of promising new approaches that support student enrollment and retention across all of California’s 116 community colleges. She emphasized the Chancellor’s office’s attention to data and its growing reliance on that information to track and report on student and college success rates.

Martin Hernandez

Martin Hernandez is the internship coordinator for the LA County Department of Arts & Culture, the largest such program in the country. He recruits students for existing internships. In his experience, having on-campus personnel who are invested in championing the internship option among faculty is a critical step and opens the door to more work-based learning opportunities. He also noted that misaligned values separate the college’s focus from that of the student. If the college tracks retention and persistence numbers but not student graduation and job placement numbers, then it’s not focused on helping students achieve their goals. In his words, “the school and the student should be rowing in the same direction.”

Kelly Lobianco

As the Executive Director for the newly established Economic and Workforce Development Branch of the LA County Department of Economic Opportunity, Kelly Lobianco is well versed in growing workforce development and social enterprise programming. She agrees that a shared vision of success across the EWD environment is critical for each of its elements to achieve its individual goals. With several county agencies now clustered under the single, County-based EWD branch roof, she is confident that her agency will be able to provide support and resources for the countywide EWD effort. She sees that sector as being populated by many “customers,” each of which requires a different platform of services. She includes students in her definition of ‘customer,’ as well as businesses, industries, schools, think tanks, etc. Her office will engage with and leverage those community resources to enhance economic and social enterprise success at the macro level.

 

The compelling takeaway from this part of the conversation is that workforce training is and will remain a critical element of the community’s economic growth. It is in everyone’s best interest to ensure that all potential learners have access to the resources they individually need to find, be trained for, and secure a financially rewarding job.

The next article in this edition of the Pulse features the balance of the roundtable discussion on equally critical EWD initiatives. The next edition of the Pulse will feature the contributions of the conference’s two keynote speakers, Dr. Su Jin Jez, Executive Director of California Competes, and Stephen Cheung, President of the LA Economic Development Corporation and the World Trade Center LA.

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