Community Colleges: Building a Stronger Orange County and Preparing Students for Recession-Resistant Jobs Feature Story

March 30, 2021

Orange County residents impacted by the economic downturn during the pandemic can turn to the region’s community colleges for workforce training programs to get back on their feet. The programs have been created to focus on careers that are both recession- and pandemic-resilient, reinforced by three recently-released studies that identify the vitality of these specific fields.

“Education has been shown to be a pretty good safeguard against economic downturns,” noted Jacob Poore, a research analyst with the Orange County Center of Excellence. Poore was one of several experts at the March 5 conference on Orange County’s economic recovery, hosted by the Rancho Santiago Community College District.

Research shows that the largest number of openings among occupations that require community college education or training will be in medical and dental professions; hair styling, cosmetology, and other personal services; office work at bookkeeping, accounting and legal services firms; and automotive repair and maintenance. Smaller increases are expected in information communications technology (ICT) and digital media, financial activities, and manufacturing, according to OC Strong: Economic and Occupation Projections for 2021-2025.

“In an economy that is increasingly digital and information-driven, the role of community colleges in workforce preparation will become ever more important,” states the report. “Future workers must engage in life-long education and training to maintain or enhance their skills in order to keep up with advances in technology.”

The pandemic’s impact on the economy cannot be understated. According to Orange County Economic Recovery Strategy, a report published by the Orange County Center of Excellence Labor Market Research and the Los Angeles/Orange County Regional Consortium of Community Colleges, the pandemic halted or reversed the extraordinary economic growth the region experienced in the years following the Great Recession. By 2019, employment had risen from 1.53 million to 1.85 million jobs and the unemployment rate was at an all-time low of 2.8% in February of 2020. In just three short months, when COVID-19 made its formal entry into the United States, the unemployment rate skyrocketed to 14.7%. The county lost 42,000 jobs in March and 226,000 additional jobs in April, with leisure and hospitality accounting for nearly 40% of the loss.

Included in the report is detailed data on nearly three dozen recession-resistant jobs, many of which can be trained for at local community colleges.. These highly skilled and competitive professions include web developers and digital interface designers; computer network support specialists; respiratory therapists; medical equipment technicians; and nurses. Virtually every Orange County community college offers workforce training for those interested in a career as web developers and digital interface designers, computer network specialists or computer network architects, in addition to the 40+ programs available, according to another OC Center of Excellence report, Resilient Jobs

Students in these programs benefit from more than just career stability – Orange County’s community colleges tout several awards in these sectors. For occupations requiring a bachelor’s degree, Orange County’s community colleges offer undergraduate studies in a particular field at the lowest price of any higher education system in the nation.