Career Ed on the Cutting Edge: Future-Proof Careers Made Easy Feature Story

June 27, 2019

With the right education, finding a solid career in Orange County has never been simpler. The good news is that industries are booming in the region. The trouble is, there aren’t enough skilled workers to fill the gaps.

For those looking to change careers — or start a new one — it’s a win-win.

Orange County’s community colleges are filling the gap, launching students into the workforce to fulfill these much-needed positions. Career programs equip these future professionals with the cutting-edge training they need to excel in the fastest-growing fields.

With the “skills gap” in California expected to leave more than 1 million workforce positions unfilled by 2025, the timing has never been more ideal. By attending a community college career education program, Orange County professionals can put themselves in a unique position to earn high salaries, while saving both time and money on their education.

“Our Career Education programs include training in high-wage, high-growth industry sectors,” says Gustavo Chamorro, Orange County Director for the LAOCRC. “Training can be completed in two years or less, meaning that our students can be out in the workforce sooner, earning livable wages, and making their future and that of their families better.”

Opportunities abound in the region, and with more than 200 career education programs to choose from, students can take advantage of these trends. It’s estimated that by 2026, more than 17,500 “middle-skills” jobs requiring specialized training will become available in Orange County every year. Meanwhile, career education grads bearing associate degrees or career certificates are earning an average of $66,000 annually in Orange County, compared to the $38,500 average for general associate degree holders.

Some of the leading sectors include advanced healthcare, advanced manufacturing, and information technology, which all boast extremely low unemployment rates and are among the fastest-growing industries in California. For these fields to continue to grow, however, employers need to be able to find enough qualified employees.

“Healthcare, advanced manufacturing, retail/hospitality/tourism, and information tech/digital media are certainly the giants that are leading the way in terms of growth in our region,” says Anthony Teng, Dean of Advanced Technology and Applied Science at Saddleback College. “But there are also many other dynamic industries that are booming as well, including advanced transportation and logistics, business and entrepreneurship, energy/construction and utilities, life sciences and biotech, and so many others.”

The top three reasons employers could not find employees were a lack of technical skills, lack of workplace competencies, and lack of applicants, according to the Orange County Business Council’s Closing Orange County’s Skills Gap report. That’s why community colleges are working with regional businesses and creating certification programs that meet industry standards and teach exactly what students need to enter these booming sectors. It’s a partnership that benefits everyone, and creates a seamless transition between the classroom and the workforce.

One of the fastest-growing industries in the region is advanced manufacturing, according to the Coastline Regional Occupational Program’s 2018 Labor Market Study. The local growth rate outpaces both the state and the nation, and with 250,000 professionals working in the regional manufacturing industry from 2012-2017, the sector employed more people in Orange County than any other industry. This field includes manufacturing of all kinds like biotech, information and communication tech manufacturing, food and beverage manufacturing, and defense, aerospace, and transportation manufacturing. With a host of options to choose from and employers who are actively seeking new recruits, this is truly a sector with a robust future.

Each community college in Orange County has tailored its advanced manufacturing programs to the increasing needs of this industry, where students master the latest technology and processes, opening doors to these burgeoning careers. Not only does advanced manufacturing impact virtually every industry sector, but 96,500 positions will open up in California by 2020 due to retirements and other replacement needs.

Another leading industry is healthcare, which includes hospitals, nursing, and care facilities. The health sector has often been called a recession-proof field, and since 2009, this sector has added more jobs than any other industry in Orange County. California hires more health workers than any other state, and the need continues to grow, with opportunities for certified nursing assistants continuing to increase by 23 percent. Meanwhile, job openings for nurse practitioners and home health aides are expected to grow 38 percent by 2024. With average wages standing much higher than other industries at about $46 per hour, students can build future-proof careers and earn an excellent living in healthcare.

Information and communications technologies also hold strong potential for economic growth, offering higher-than-average wages in a vast array of jobs and services. By 2022, 39 percent of California’s job openings will be related to information and communications technologies, with this booming field encompassing computer systems analysts, software developers, systems software experts, market research analysts, web developers, and information security analysts. Because information technology is a part of almost every business in the region, there is a tremendous need for workers with the technical skills and knowledge to help the industry expand.

“No matter what students are interested in, we have a career path that fits their interests and strengths,” says Teng. “[Career education] can provide them a smooth transition into the workforce in a fraction of the time it would take to get a traditional degree.”

With this incredible demand for workers in information and communications technology comes not only higher wages for entry-level positions, but also plenty of room to develop careers and seize opportunities. Graduates from Orange County career education programs reported an 81 percent success rate in the field within six months, showing how community colleges are helping students blaze the way to new and exciting career paths.

“The region truly is blossoming economically, and the wonderful news is that our Orange County community colleges offer Career Education programs that are cutting-edge and completely up to industry standards,” says Teng.