OC Pathways Paves Way for Regional Education and Industry Partnerships Feature Story

January 28, 2020
OC Pathwys logo in the middle of a collage of OC showcase and related images

Drawing more than 200 educators, industry leaders, and students to the Marconi Automotive Museum on Dec. 3, 2019, the recent OC Pathways Showcase highlighted the innovative educational and industry partnerships that have become the signature achievements of the OC Pathways project.

“Transformative changes to our economy and the nature of work are demanding new approaches to college and career readiness,” said Orange County Department of Education (OCDE) Superintendent Dr. Al Mijares in a recent interview. “OC Pathways continues to be at the vanguard of this work, bringing together schools, local businesses, colleges, universities and regional agencies to ensure that our students are empowered with the skills and competencies needed to navigate an increasingly automated world.”

OC Pathways, which was honored in 2018 as a model of public-private partnerships by the Orange County Business Council, is led by the OCDE in partnership with the Orange County Regional Consortium of community colleges. Since its inception in 2014, it has grown to include 27 school districts, ten community colleges, and countless regional agencies and industry partners.

Initially funded as part of California’s $500 million California Career Pathways Trust (CPT), the program aimed to expand career pathways for students to earn the skills and credentials leading to high-wage careers.

“The big thing we had to overcome was getting out of silos,” recalls Anthony Teng, dean of advanced technology and applied science at Saddleback College and one of the early program’s key community college organizers. “We had to get out of the ‘what’s in it for my institution’ mindset and start focusing on what was good for Orange County students and the region as a whole. The whole idea was to figure out how to work together instead of competing with each other.”

Over time, a new collaborative mindset took hold as K-12 and community college educators began working more closely with each other and regional business stakeholders to develop models for such processes as identifying high-growth sectors, creating a common curriculum, and developing opportunities for students.

According to Kathy Boyd, current executive director of OC Pathways and director of the OCDE’s career education unit, the continued success of OC Pathways owes much to the culture of collaboration that developed during those early years.

“There was a lot of trust built in those early days,” says Boyd. “People felt like they could be vulnerable and transparent about the barriers and difficulties they faced, not just brag about successes. That trust still exists today and it makes Orange County very unique as a region. We, of course, still have our hiccups, but overall, we’re very collaborative. It has become part of our culture.”

Two years ago, as the Career Pathways Trust funds were set to expire, OCDE Superintendent Dr. Al Mijares and Chief Academic Officer, Dr. Jeff Hittenberger made the decision to hire Boyd out of the OCDE’s own funds in order to continue the work that CPT was doing. As two of the programs early organizers and supporters, Mijares and Hittenberger had seen firsthand the positive impact that CPT was making.

Today, under the new OC Pathways name and funded by the OCDE, the Career Technical Education Incentive Grant (CTEIG), and the California Community Colleges regional K12 Strong Workforce Program, Boyd is working hard to continue cultivating that spirit of collaboration while expanding the infrastructure necessary to keep OC Pathways sustainable.

Recent hires include a coordinator and four project managers who will be tasked with supervising eight ambitious initiatives. These initiatives include:

  • Advancing Career Counseling
  • Building CTE Dual Enrollment
  • Creating Industry Certification Opportunities
  • Designing Career-Based Student Leadership
  • Enhancing Career Education Pedagogies
  • Forming OC Integrated Pathway Teams
  • Heightening Work-Based Learning
  • Gold Standard CTE Model for Special Populations

Taken as a whole, these far-reaching projects run the gamut from growing career technical education (CTE) dual-enrollment opportunities between regional high schools and community colleges, to working with industry partners to create and connect high school students to career-focused educational opportunities where they can get the technical and employability skills regional businesses are looking for.

One of OC Pathways’ biggest accomplishments over the last year has been the hiring of 13 (soon to be 14) career counseling coordinators to work at each of OCDE’s district offices. These new hires fill a key personnel need at the district level by “putting boots on the ground” who can guide school-level counselors on the latest career education practices, programs, and initiatives.

“These coordinators provide endless rewards from a systemic level that are happening daily,” says Boyd. “They really help us bridge the gap between our work building educational systems to support students, and communicating that support to the students who need it most.”

Another achievement will be the first annual Orange County career expo and student leadership conference. This three day event will take place starting on April 17, 2020 at the Orange County Fairgrounds. Unlike typical job fairs, this event will take the form of a three-day professional conference covering all things career-related. High school students will be able to engage in immersive career-preparation experiences, parents will be able to learn about which high schools and community colleges offer which programs, students will be able to meet regional employers and find internship opportunities, and employers will be able to interview and even hire new employees.

“The whole idea is for the event to bring all parts of the puzzle together and be a one-stop shop for careers,” says OC Pathways Coordinator and expo organizer, Kim Goodwin. “From high school students who are thinking about careers, to the community colleges that offer degrees in those fields, to the employers who are actively hiring in those areas, we want this event to connect the entire career education pathway.”

In this way, the upcoming career expo stands as a fitting metaphor for all OC Pathways has achieved and hopes to achieve in the future.

“We’ve done some great things,” says Boyd. “But we have lots of growth in mind. Ultimately, we want there to be a seamless connection between a kid starting in high school, even middle school, to when they choose their first elective class, to when they start at a community college, to when they get hired. The end point is to save students time and money while giving them all the resources they need to succeed.”

For more information about OC Pathways, its various initiatives, or how to get involved as a business or educational agency, please visit the OC Pathways website here.