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Poised to Deliver a Strong Workforce

July/August 2016

By Van Ton-Quinlivan

The nation’s largest higher education system takes bold moves to close the skills gap.


California, like many states nationwide, faces a skills gap that shows no signs of closing. By 2025, according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, 30 percent of all job openings in California (a total of 1.9 million jobs) will require “middle skills”—some form of postsecondary education short of a four-year degree.

Currently, California’s education pipeline isn’t keeping pace. Employers in key industries have difficulty filling job openings, because workers with the required skills and aptitudes remain in short supply. In response to this shortfall of middle-skills workers, the California Community Colleges Board of Governors commissioned the Task Force on Workforce, Job Creation, and a Strong Economy (Strong Workforce Task Force).

Created in 2014, the task force was charged with recommending policies and practices to meet the anticipated shortage of 1 million industry-valued, middle-skills degrees, certificates, and credentials in career technical education (CTE). Its work included gathering input from more than 1,200 stakeholders (see sidebar, “The Path to the Plan”).

In November 2015, the board of governors unanimously approved the task force’s 25 “Strong Workforce” recommendations covering seven broad areas. The changes seek to:

1. Enable student success by removing barriers to education completion with improved career exploration and planning, work-based learning, and other support.

2. Put industry at the forefront of career pathway development with clear, defined sequences for learning industry-valued skills.

3. Continuously improve programs based on robust metrics and outcome data.

4. Streamline the curriculum-approval process. Currently, it takes too long, leaving students without timely skills that employers require.

5. Increase the pool of qualified CTE faculty. Currently, it’s difficult to attract quality faculty because of education requirements and salary differentials.

6. Coordinate efforts by region to pool resources and funding for CTE and to adequately respond to regional industry needs.

7. Establish a dedicated and sustainable funding source for CTE programs. Currently, CTE courses are funded at the same level as general education courses. Yet, they have higher startup and operating costs. Funding gaps are closed with grants, but those are not long-term solutions.

California’s governor and legislature expressed their support for the recommendations by proposing a new $200MStrong Workforce Program in the state’s upcoming budget. The plan is to leveragethese new dollars to create not only new programs, but also to reshape existing CTE programs, so students build the skills that employers want.

More Talk, More Action

The task force’s work has already sparked many in-house, in-depth conversations about the importance of CTE. “We’re having a new level of frank discussions about what is working, as well as [about] unmet needs,” says Cindy Miles, chancellor of Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District, which consists of two colleges near El Cajon and serves 30,000 students. “Conversations have already begun across our district and region about integrating CTE/workforce training within the scope of other major initiatives already demonstrating success in moving the needle on student success, such as dual enrollment, guided pathways, acceleration, and embedded student support.”

Following are a few examples:

The Yuba Community College District. Yuba’s two colleges serve 14,000 students in northern California, and have begun reviewing the relevancy of the curriculum in many of their CTE programs. In addition, they’re holding faculty and advisory boards accountable to ensure that the school offers skills that align with industry needs, says Kuldeep Kaur, the district’s chief business officer and a member of the Strong Workforce Task Force.

Kaur reports that her district is also taking a new and closer look at career pathways, defined as seamless sequences of integrated coursework and work experiences across K–12 and postsecondary education that provide multiple entry and exit points, related work experience opportunities at various stages, and wrap-around support services. “We are working to align high school-to-college pathways in high-demand workforce areas,” she says. “Currently we have identified and are building pathways for health care, automotive, and manufacturing/welding.”

Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College. This location is working closely with local high schools to build stronger CTE pathways and better prepare students for college and careers through its East County Education Alliance High School-to-College Partnership. The program offers CTE pathway options that start in 9th grade and lead to eligibility for a free first year of college/career training with its Higher Edge Scholarship.

Grossmont-Cuyamaca has also formed a Workforce Solutions Team to collaborate with the regional economic development council. Their goal: to craft an industry-driven approach to career training that encompasses high school and college students, incumbent workers, and adults re-entering the workforce.

“We’re developing pathways linking short-term certificates, degree/certificate attainment, university transfer, industry credentialing, and skill building,” reports Miles. “Ultimately, we’ll have a robust, responsive system of career development for new, displaced, and underemployed workers, as well as strong middle-skills jobs training to meet the critical economic development needs of our region and the nation.”

Golden West College, Huntington Beach. Developing robust and dynamic partnerships between faculty and industry representatives not only matches career pathways with the most pressing needs, but also leads to more relevant student work experiences. Golden West updated its digital media department curriculum by bringing in computer science and gaming courses. It also renamed courses to correspond with terms more commonly used in the field.

“Industry is embedded within our program,” says Renah Wolzinger, a faculty member in Golden West’s digital media department. “Workers are teaching courses and bringing in their equipment from work. As a result, our students are meeting industry professionals and are invited to real-world functions, such as hackathons, and to collaborate on projects like game design.”

Improved Data Points

Central to almost all the 25 Strong Workforce Task Force’s recommendations are the availability and proper use of robust data. Specifically, the task force recommended the system “provide labor market, workforce outcome, and student demographic data/information that are easily accessible and usable.”

In response, California Community Colleges launched CTE Data Unlocked, an awareness campaign about a suite of existing and new data resources available to CTE practitioners on campuses. “Our team attended the training, and our college is now eligible for the $50,000 from the chancellor’s office,” says Kuldeep Kaur. Colleges whose senior administrators attend the training are eligible for 10 hours of technical assistance, plus a one-time allocation of $50,000 to support CTE data usage.

One data tool is the LaunchBoard, by which CTE faculty, deans, and other administrators can view, at no charge, the effectiveness of their programs and determine whether similar programming within the region is producing the optimum number of graduates to meet the labor market’s needs. Through her use of LaunchBoard reports, for example, Wolzinger confirmed anecdotal reports that Golden West College’s digital media program skewed toward male students. In response, she partnered with a local high school and executed “Pathway Days” that introduced young women to jobs available in the digital media field. As a result, female enrollment in her program increased.

Even in these early stages of the Strong Workforce Program, the wider availability of the data tools has elevated dialogue among faculty, staff, and institutional leaders at Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District, confirms Cindy Miles. “We’re having more focused discussions about program and instructional strengths, the need for more precise labor market information for program planning, and the importance of employment data tied to specific student records for outcome accountability,” she says.

Another recommendation formulated by the task force relates to curriculum portability—the ability for a student in today’s highly mobile society to begin a program at one college and complete it at another. “This is one of the best ways that we can address labor market needs,” Kaur believes. “This will allow skills training that is needed all over the state to scale quickly to meet the demand of businesses.”

Fully implementing the recommendations will transform the positioning and effectiveness of workforce development at California’s 113 community colleges, says Miles, and usher in a positive, new era of career technical education. “This comprehensive approach to data-informed program planning, delivery systems, regional partnerships, and student engagement will help us meet the gulf of long-standing needs noted by our community business and industry partners,” she adds. “Operationally, it brings our disparate noncredit, adult education, corporate training, and credit workforce and career development programs under a single planning umbrella—a first!”

VAN TON-QUINLIVAN is vice chancellor for workforce and economic development, California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office.


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