NOCE filling critical gaps in Career Education Feature Story

April 30, 2019

It’s going to take a well-stocked toolbox to build the future of Orange County. It’s a job that requires precise, custom-crafted handiwork, and the typical hammers and saws aren’t going to cut it.

Enter North Orange Continuing Education (NOCE) – career education’s “Swiss Army Knife.” Since 1974, NOCE has been a behind-the-scenes hero for countless individuals in Orange County communities, working tirelessly to close gaps in not only workforce preparedness, but achievement and equity.

As part of the North Orange County Community College District, NOCE provides opportunities for more than 30,000 students every year, through a versatile array of career- and personal development-focused programs. For many individuals and families in the region, NOCE’s free, outcome-focused classes have meant the difference between gainful employment and a life of struggle. 

“They need to know they can,” says NOCE success story Hilda Rivera, who now works with the institution as a faculty member and coordinator of the ESL Mentorship program. “We want our students to believe that they can finish high school and go to college, and then we want to help them do that.”

With about 800 courses every quarter, offered through three continuing education centers and more than 150 off-campus locations, NOCE has chosen a holistic approach. Programs cover everything from traditional, classroom-to-career training, to language acquisition and life skills.

NOCE’s philosophy is broader and more intimate. With 10, certificate-bearing career education programs, plus a staggering array of specialized training, mentoring, support and pre-education services, NOCE has visualized career education less as a conduit from “Point A to Point B,” and more as living, breathing continuum.

“We provide real skills that lead to real tangible outcomes, not only for our adult learners, but for the region as a whole,” says NOCE Provost Valentina Purtell.

The institution’s unique, education-for-all approach has yielded some undeniably powerful success stories. Dramatic stories like that of Assad Moumin, who used NOCE’s ESL program to learn English, earn a high school diploma and study civil engineering, after fleeing civil war in his native Somalia. Uplifting stories like Rachyl Wiesner, now paying forward the encouragement she gained from NOCE’s Disability Support Services (DSS) as a professional early childhood education administrator.

And, even more frequently, practical stories of career satisfaction, like that of Conrad Hoernke, who craved a more compassionate career, and found it through NOCE’s Funeral Service Assistant program.

“That’s the kind of support we want to provide,” says Rivera, who earned her high school diploma with NOCE’s help after immigrating from Mexico. “When I was first starting, I didn’t know anyone that had finished high school, let alone college or graduate school.

“When I saw that it was not only possible, but free, at NOCE… it seemed too good to be true.”

Perhaps NOCE’s biggest institutional strength is its adaptability. NOCE’s career education certificate programs were chosen to address critical needs in the Orange County workforce, and as technology and best practices evolve, so too does the curriculum.

Current classroom-to-career education programs include Administrative Professional, Business Information Worker, Early Childhood Education, Electrical Technology, Funeral Service Assistant, Management, Medical Assistant, Pharmacy Technician, and Quality Assurance Management for Medical Devices. Each program is continually re-evaluated and updated, based on feedback from regional industry leaders.

“We have advisory groups come in just to make sure that were meeting their needs and our students can get work in those fields,” says Raine Hambly, director of Career Technical Education programs.

While there are many options in Orange County for career education, it’s NOCE’s industry-driven focus, and network of skill-building programs and support services that set it apart. NOCE is involved at virtually every stage of the education journey, from preschool to senior learning. This “fill-in-the-blanks” philosophy creates hope for learners at various levels of language, technology and “soft skills” sophistication.

Beyond career education, the NOCE’s customized programs include ESL, Disability Support Services, HS Diploma or GED/HiSET equivalency, Kids College & Teen classes, Life Skills, Older Adults and Parenting.

“Our students are our heroes,” says Purtell. “They empower themselves through their educational journey in our school, either through pursuit of citizenship, a meaningful career, or a long term goal to live independently.”

With California’s legislative priorities emphasizing equity, social mobility, and outcome-focused higher education, NOCE could be considered career education’s “secret weapon.” As its various programs support and build on each other, the benefits tend to have an exponential effect, not only for the adult students gaining a secure livelihood, but for every life that that success touches.

“It’s not just for us,” says Rivera. “It’s for our children. It’s to set an example for the generations to follow.”

For more information about resources NOCE provides and the many programs it offers, visit