Connecting to Career Ed: Orange County’s Regional Directors of Employer Engagement Industry Profile

October 30, 2020

Orange County’s regional directors of employer engagement provide a critical leadership function by connecting community college career education programs with local industry and community stakeholders in order to make sure students get the education they need to start great careers, and employers get the well-educated workforce they need to continue to thrive.

This month, we caught up with Orange County’s five regional directors and asked them to reflect on what the future holds for Orange County’s post-COVID economy and regional career education programs. Here’s what they had to say:

Why are community college career education programs important to Orange County’s post-COVID recovery?

“Orange County’s community colleges are mission critical for the recovery in the region. Why? They’re accessible, cost effective, provide impactful and just-in-time content, and are laser-focused on service, support, excellence, and care. Specifically, they provide a few critical services: 1. CCs train the workforce that is vital for treating the sick and keeping the nation safe; 2. They specialize in career-oriented programs that can get people (back) to work quickly; 3. They offer a promising first step for students seeking bachelor’s degrees; 4. They have deep roots in our local communities; 5. They have a track record of adapting to changing circumstances and priorities. With the pandemic and resulting turbulent changes, the now for entrepreneurship—and strategic business skills—has arrived!”

Dr. Cathleen Greiner, Regional Director of Employer Engagement, Business & Entrepreneurship

“In the energy, construction, and utilities (ECU) and advanced manufacturing sectors, automation is front and center regarding COVID-19 concerns. Whether it is building automation or mechatronics, employers realize the need to automate processes to protect employees. The Multi-Sector Regional Automation Pathways Project creates an initiative that addresses employers’ needs for a highly trained automation workforce. With a demand of 3,200 job openings annually in the LAOC region and median hourly earnings of $19 to $37, displaced workers can enroll in the automation pathway at any of six OC community colleges and rejoin the workforce. Anecdotally, Siemens reports 3,000 consistently unfilled jobs nationwide and significant difficulty in finding qualified applicants. To address COVID-19 concerns, the colleges have access to 3D virtual reality training online, supported by the ECU regional directors.”

Dr. Jon M. Caffery, Regional Director of Employer Engagement, Energy, Construction, and Utilities

What does it mean to you to be part of an organization that’s having success uplifting both students and businesses?

“I began my nursing career as a graduate of the Golden West College Nursing Program. As a community college student, I appreciate the influence career technical education had on my life. It has great meaning to be part of an organization that is having success in uplifting both our nursing and allied health students and the healthcare organizations we serve. As leaders in our sector, we are the students we serve. The students are members of their community and reflect the background and experiences of the patients and families they will serve along their entire career. During these difficult times, Nursing and Allied Health programs are increasingly important to meet the needs in our region.”

Dr. Laurie Sienkiewicz, RN, Regional Director of Employer Engagement, Health

“Though the RHT sector is among the hardest hit by the COVID crisis, it is critical to California’s economy, and particularly to our OC region. Much of the industry projections indicate there will be jobs! We can be strategic and innovative through the rebound and recovery. It’s also an important time to recalibrate. Initially, there may be fewer jobs, but my hope is they will be better “high-road” jobs to lift up our OC RHT students and workforce. Now more than ever, the transformation in our communities and on our campuses is beyond inspirational. It starts with access. This effort to uplift students and our communities is ever present and even transcends departments and campuses.”

Sheila Dufresne, Regional Director of Employer Engagement, Retail, Hospitality, Tourism

Can you highlight some of the successes you’ve achieved connecting employers to relevant higher education?

“When the COVID pandemic hit, I worked with the Orange County Auto Dealers Association (OCADA) to virtually connect OC career ed students to the auto industry. Events included the opportunity for 3,000+ high school students to take part in a virtual automotive pathway program, including virtual site tours of local dealerships, tips for success from management, and inspiration from recent college alumni in industry. Similarly, 1,500 community college students had a chance to virtually connect with leading employers to start careers that offer the highest potential earnings in the automotive industry. We partnered with the dealers on a customized platform that allows students to create profiles on the site and apply directly to current open jobs at 100+ new vehicle dealerships in Orange County. Also, this year, 65 students received auto technology scholarships from OC Driven for Success to attend OC community colleges this year.”

Jaime Gonzalez, Regional Director of Employer Engagement, Advanced Transportation & Logistics

To learn more about any of Orange County’s many career education programs, visit