Let’s Chat! Concierge Service Connects Regional Community Colleges to Companies Project Success

October 18, 2023

Victor Zendejas, vice president of operations at  Classic Performance Products in Placentia, never knew his question in the Future Built website chatbot would lead to a relationship with several colleges that could help him attract quality employees and help students find great careers in the classic car industry – but it did.

Zendejas was having a tough time finding good candidates for a welder position and a machinist position. After having little success using LinkedIn and staffing agencies, he found himself on the Future Built website. Out of curiosity and not knowing where to begin, he asked in the chatbot if the colleges had programs in these fields.

“Honestly, I don’t think we gave community colleges a thought before then,” Zendejas said.

While many colleges and universities have chatbot features supported by artificial intelligence, the Future Built website provides a concierge service: a real person responding to chatbot inquiries in addition to answering calls made to its information phone line. But there’s more. Complicated questions are sent to an expert in the field: Gustavo Chamorro, former Orange County Director, LA/OC Regional Consortium, and president of Education Advance and Workforce Services, LLC.

“Typically, when you go to a website, you can be overwhelmed, or you don’t know where to find the information,” said Chamorro, who has decades of experience working in career education. “The human element is important. We live in a time when we try to automate things as much as possible. There is this idea of meeting people where they are. There are people who are self-navigators and can accomplish what they need to on their own. There are others who really need to contact and talk to someone. When we show empathy, and when we show that you are important to us, it makes a difference.”

Chamorro received Zendejas’ information and contacted him directly to dig deeper into his needs. Chamorro ultimately put him in contact with the staff at the career centers at several colleges. Zendejas appreciated the personal attention of Chamorro following up with additional information and contributing to email conversations with college staff. 

“Usually, when someone gives you some leads, you are not sure it’s going to go anywhere,” Zendejas admitted. “The responses were perfect.”

Today, not only is Zendejas beginning to recruit community college students for positions at his company that manufactures and sells products for customized cars, but is also organizing tours at his company’s facility for students.

“I thought bringing the students here to see the equipment on a shop tour would really give them something to shoot for and ‘wow’ them,” said Zendejas, who joined the company when it had 28 employees and now has a staff of nearly 100.

He plans to invite Fullerton College and Santiago Canyon College students to see professionals on the job in research and development, design, 3D molding, engineering, quality control, manufacturing, and more. Orange County community colleges have programs that are training future professionals in these fields.

“I had no idea there was such a wide range of programs and the course work [at the colleges] and that‘s amazing,” Zendejas said. “Working with the colleges is great because you meet enthusiastic, young students who are trying to get an education and land a career.”

Even though the Future Built and the college websites are robust and have a lot of information, they may not be easy to navigate for someone unfamiliar with the colleges and those who may not even know what to search, Chamorro explained.

The Orange County Regional Consortium worked with GradComm, a higher education marketing agency, to establish the chat feature and the information phone line. GradComm also subcontracted with a company that could provide virtual 24/7 staffing. Chamorro receives the transcripts of the calls and chats to determine if he needs to follow up with additional information. Many people don’t realize they are chatting online with a real person. He said, in the transcripts at least 30 percent of the chats include the person asking the representative, “Are you a real person?”

The original goal of the phone line and the chatbot was to help prospective students find the appropriate career education program at one of Orange County’s community colleges. Since its launch in 2021, employers have become frequent users of the service. It has become a mutually beneficial tool for community colleges and local businesses.

For example, now that colleges are back to holding in-person events, Chamorro has encouraged employers to participate in community college career fairs. Some employers have taken tours of the campuses to see how students gain hands-on training and skills. Other employers, such as Classic Performance Products, now see the colleges as a place for recruitment and are working to create employment pathways for career education program graduates.

In addition, the chat feature and phone line have received requests for information about noncredit programs, such as ESL. Chamorro has fielded many questions from parents, some new to the country, who are trying to find educational opportunities for their children. He sees this as an excellent opportunity to assist students in general and also provide information to students about future options, such as noncredit career education programs and the pathways to other credit programs and degrees. Helping any student is a win for the community colleges.

“At the end of the day, students and employers, these are the people who are in need of help,” he said. “We provide that human connection and we help people get to where they need to go.”

Chamorro said these concierge services are necessary for the future of community colleges. Sometimes community colleges take the view that “if they build it, they will come.”

“Times have changed. You have many private organizations that do effective marketing,” Chamorro said of the competition community colleges face. “I believe community colleges need to promote themselves more. This needs to be part of any community college strategy.”