Business and Entrepreneurship in Orange County with Regional Director Cathleen Greiner Sector Profile

September 30, 2019
Collage of Cathleen Greiner at various business sector events

By all measures, Orange County’s economy is booming. Thriving industry sectors, low unemployment rates, and higher wages all point to a regional economy that is flourishing, according to the 2019 Orange County Workforce Indicators Report by the Orange County Business Council. 

Ensuring that Orange County’s economy remains positive into the future, however, takes synergy between industry and education. Regional community colleges must remain aligned with the workforce needs of local businesses in order to continue to educate and train workers for the in-demand occupations of the. It is also a crucial time to understand and prepare for the realities of a “disruptive economy.”

This is where the former Irvine Valley College Dean of Business Sciences, Dr. Cathleen Greiner, comes in. As the current Regional Director of Employer Engagement for Orange County’s Business and Entrepreneurship sector, Greiner’s task is to foster and build mutually beneficial and sustainable relationships between the businesses and community colleges that call Orange County home. Greiner serves as a nexus between education and employers and is hosted by Santa Ana College, home to over 36,000 Orange County students.

“My focus is on employer connection, engagement, and the sustainability of an educational and workforce pipeline that meets the needs of the business and entrepreneurship sector,” says Greiner. “My job is trying to stay ahead of the curve so we can translate industry needs to our community colleges, then assist those colleges in making their curriculum more responsive. If the alpha statement is to prep for the future, the omega statement is adaptability.”

Funded by the California Community Colleges Strong Workforce Program (CCCCO, SB1402), Greiner’s multi-faceted responsibilities include ensuring that community college programs and offerings stay relevant to the needs of local industry; making sure there are workforce opportunities for students, especially in the middle skills areas; and ensuring that employers can access a skilled and trained workforce.

“Under the Workforce Development Act, we work to get students the skills they need for jobs now being created, as well as those yet to be developed,” says Greiner.

Because automation, technology and consumer behavior are changing the workplace so rapidly, colleges must anticipate workforce and industry needs years ahead of time. For that reason, they must infuse employability skills such as adaptability, digital fluency, collaboration, and entrepreneurship into the curriculum at all levels, so students will be able to learn and adapt to future disruptions.

Business and Entrepreneurship in Orange County

As one of the California Community Colleges’ ten priority sectors, the Business and Entrepreneurship sector was identified by the Los Angeles Orange County Regional Consortium (LAOCRC) as one of eight regional priority sectors because of its importance to the long-term success of Orange County’s economy.

As a sector, it boasts the third highest number of employees in the region (after hospitality/tourism and healthcare) and from 2010 to 2018 grew over 23 percent, according to the recent report, “The Growing Importance of Community Colleges to Orange County’s Economy.” (Read about it and download it here.) Employees within this sector also earn an average salary of over $110,000 a year, second only to the wages earned by those in information and communication technology (ICT).

Nurturing this area of Orange County’s economy, both in terms of jobs created and students hired, is an essential part of Dr. Greiner’s mission and one that she is working hard—in collaboration with an extensive network and the regional colleges—to accomplish.

“Aligning the curriculum from K-12 to CC’s and to university partners, in order to truly link up all of our guided pathway (college/career) content, is essential,” says Greiner.

For example, understanding data analytics is important for business, so basic computer skills need to be infused at the earliest levels. Also important: working with career education (CE) counselors at Orange County high schools and community colleges so students know what career options they have and what jobs are in-demand. The annual Counselor Network Conference OC—sponsored by the OC Strong Workforce Program—now draws some 700 CE allied partners to build that network with a focus on skills and preparation.

A recent pitch competition, modeled on the TV show, Shark Tank, was held at Cypress College and is just one example of the kinds of events Greiner is developing and supporting to help students build the skills they need to enter the world of business. Nearly all of the regional colleges provide an opportunity for students to showcase business planning and entrepreneurial thinking, while representing the breadth of disciplines on the campuses, from art to biotech to music to new apps.

Another focus of Greiner’s efforts are internships. Internships remain an excellent way for students to develop workforce readiness skills, network, and try occupations they may be interested in. Businesses also benefit by getting needed help and recruiting new graduates.

“The colleges have many opportunities; but since I represent all nine of Orange County’s community colleges and am able to connect across the region, I have more of a horizontal ability to reach out,” says Dr. Greiner, who is currently working out the details of 10 new IT Help Desk internships with a local professional group.  “After all, there are over 700,000 community college students in Orange County and Los Angeles. That’s a lot of possible interns!”

Greiner’s activities have also included a region-wide, week-long cyber-security boot camp hosted at Santa Ana College last summer, and another weeklong boot camp for those women returning to the workforce. She has also presented two sessions at Saddleback College on skills needed in a disruptive economy, hosted an event on supply chain management at Coastline College, and conducted the annual Employer Engagement Summit at Costa Mesa’s Urban Workshop, a long-time strategic partner and home to the third largest DIY workshop and makerspace in North America.

“This type of relationship building—and scaling—is what business is all about and it’s also what community colleges are about,” reflects Greiner. “We, after all, are here for the students, from beginning to lifelong learning. The future of the economy is in their hands, but it’s up to us to give them the tools to succeed in a rapidly changing and transitional economy, especially here in Orange County.”

If you’d like more information about the many unique business and entrepreneurship programs at Orange County’s community colleges, you can visit their career education pages here. Interested parties are also invited to connect with Greiner on LinkedIn here.