‘Bottom Line’: Career Ed Programs Adapting to Community, Workforce Needs Economic Impact Report

May 24, 2019

With wages and jobs on the rise in the region, Orange County’s community colleges are rising to the occasion.

Orange County is expanding, according to the latest South Orange County Economic Report, presented by Saddleback College in partnership with the South Orange County Economic Coalition. With job growth estimated at 3.9 percent for Orange County and 4.6 percent for South Orange County over the next five years, the need for classroom-to-career pathways is urgent.

Orange County Community Colleges are stepping up to support that growth, offering vital Career Education programs aligned with the needs of the growing industries and emerging workforce.

“The community colleges have been able to develop programs and opportunities that address the need for fast and agile training opportunities,” says Anthony Teng, Dean of Advanced Technology and Applied Science at Saddleback College. “The business industry can’t wait two years for formal education and degrees – they need quick training.”

As the community’s industries grow and change, so do the offerings at the community colleges, which are dedicated to giving students the essential skills they need to advance their careers. These demand-driven programs are leading to jobs in many of Orange County’s fastest-growing industries.

According to the economic report, booming sectors in the region include healthcare and social assistance, retail trade, accommodation and food services, government, and professional, scientific, and tech services, with significant growth occurring in the construction industry as well. As jobs in these industries increase, the demand for skilled workers is keeping pace.

“The community colleges regularly review the Career Education offerings so that they address the needs of the workforce,” says Teng. “Bottom line, we strive to provide programs to meet the needs of the community we serve.”

Career Education is a critical source of this much-needed workforce training. Many of the programs teach horizontal skills that can apply to many different industries, further preparing students for the modern workforce.

“A vertical skill is very focused in the particular discipline, for example, nursing, which is focused on patient care. Horizontal skills may hit multiple sectors,” explains Teng. “So advanced manufacturing and information technology (IT) pop up in a lot of different areas in a business cycle.”

For instance, IT covers everything from computers to telephones to video conferencing, and also extends into business with e-commerce and cybersecurity components. Another example is advanced manufacturing, which includes the concept, prototype, and making of a product, not to mention marketing, sales, and product support. This kind of comprehensive training available is crucial for many growing industries.

The flexible, hands-on, and practical approach of these programs is drawing increasing numbers of students – an uplifting trend for Orange County’s Career Education providers.

In the past, CE might have been seen as a “backup plan,” but as the modern workforce evolves, students are increasingly choosing this avenue to find better, higher-paying jobs and to advance currently held positions.

“I’m excited that the community and the community colleges in general have embraced career education as a legitimate pathway,” says Teng. “It’s not just about transferring to a four-year university ­­– we provide many opportunities to get students into the workforce.”

Orange County’s community colleges have enjoyed great success in meeting the needs of the workforce, due in large part to their emphasis on teamwork.

Teng explains: “The great opportunity we have is that all nine community colleges and the not-for-credit programs are working together as a region. We’re focusing on the needs of the constituents throughout Orange County, and the colleges are trying to complement each other, rather than compete.”

This collaborative effort goes across all sectors. For example, in the Biotech programs, colleges have been working together to build a curriculum to complement the offerings of other programs. “They understand that each institution has different strengths, and they take advantage of each other’s strengths,” Teng says. Another example is the regional Allied Health programs, which coordinate student opportunities, faculty training, and advocating for the program with employers and regulatory agencies.

Indeed, strong partnerships are crucial to meeting the growing needs of the community. The economic report’s conclusion states that tomorrow’s workforce demands focused training for middle-skills jobs. To support this goal, the community colleges are developing pathways between K-12 schools and four-year transfer universities, to offer more opportunities for students in the areas of robotics, cybersecurity, industrial automation, digital media, real estate, global trade, and logistics.

“We provide entry-level training for our students, and we also provide incumbent training for those who want to enhance their careers,” says Teng.

The economic report affirms Orange County’s significant progress in identifying and implementing workforce needs through career education. And, according to Teng, the word is beginning to spread for career education as a top-of-mind choice for traditional and nontraditional students.

“From the statistics from the colleges, the CE programs have all increased in participation,” he says. “People have learned from our marketing efforts that a certificate or degree at a community college is at a far more reasonable price than at a private or a four-year university.”