Future Built News Center Logo

Labor Market Superhero: Director Jesse Crete and the New Orange County Center of Excellence Feature Story

September 30, 2019
Jesse Crete in front of a wall of green with the Center of Excellence logo next to her.

California’s nine Centers of Excellence (COE) perform a vital service: providing labor market information to community colleges so they can continue to improve the efficacy of their programs, both for students and regional employers. Using various data analysis tools and methodologies, these COE’s provide a critical connection between the workforce, economic development professionals, and community colleges.

“We’re in the middle of an evolution at the moment,” explains Jesse Crete, who became director of the new Orange County Center of Excellence (OC COE) last year. “In recent years, the COE provided data with a lot of industry sector information and occupational information in charts and graphs and left the reader to determine the meaning of the information. Now, we’re putting a lot more emphasis on analysis. We’re getting rid of some of the extra information and focusing on what is important for the region.” 

With the help of the OC COE’s star research analyst, Jacob Poore, Crete’s goal is to make their reports “less of a big information dump. We need to talk to educators about inquiry and how they can use the data presented to be strategic. We’ve got to teach them how to dive into the data. Culturally, it’s a big switch for us.”

A native of Los Angeles, Crete brings a wealth of experience to the OC COE from her prior positions working in the business, nonprofit, and educational sectors. Later this year, she will be defending her dissertation in educational leadership at USC.

Before she was hired to lead the OC COE in 2018, Crete was the North Orange County Regional Consortium for Adult Education’s Adult Education Block Grant director.  It was not a job she ever expected to have.

“I had my master’s degree in educational guidance counseling and was doing an internship at a high school. That’s where I thought I’d end up,” she recalls. “But I was introduced to adult ed and fell in love with the noncredit population at the community college. I realized that if my goal was to change people’s lives through education, I could empower a lot more through the community colleges.”

One of the first things Crete did after she was hired for the OC COE was to sit down with the deans from each of the nine Orange County community colleges and North Orange Continuing Education (NOCE) to ask what they needed.

“What I heard was that they want ‘more and better’ data. Some shared they felt the researchers, faculty, and administrators each ‘spoke their language’ about data when they were, say, deciding which programs to put their resources into. What I took away from those conversations was that people didn’t know what to do with the data they had. It needed to be repackaged.”

Crete also needed to break down biases and misconceptions, an issue familiar to every COE.  “I heard ‘this is wrong’ or ‘this is bad data’ constantly. We all do. It happens when the data doesn’t align with what people expect. Or they don’t know how to apply it.  Or they had a more narrow view of that data. But the data is the data. We don’t create it.”

To address these issues, Crete conducted a series of focus groups in which participants—mainly faculty, administrators, and regional directors—were invited to tear into the reports.  After “rolling around in the information,” Crete noticed a shift in attitude.

“It was wonderful to see, recalls Crete. “They began to understand why the data might not support what they thought it would, and how it could help them focus on the skill sets they needed to inform their curriculum or where to invest finite resources. Now, faculty members call or email the OC COE when they have questions. We never would have had this interaction before.”

Crete is currently conducting a series of professional development workshops for faculty. The “Becoming a Labor Market Information Superhero” presentations, which have been held at Santa Ana College, Santiago Canyon College, and the Rancho Santiago Community College District Centennial Education Center for noncredit faculty, are part comic book and part deep dive into ways to demystify information and make it accessible.

By the end of the workshops, participants are able to look at the data presented and brainstorm answers to challenges, such as how to market their programs to a more diverse group of students. Or, they might discuss the merits of shifting some courses to the noncredit category, thus making them tuition-free to students while simultaneously creating a pathway for those students to go back to school and work toward degrees that will get them higher-wage jobs.

In addition to supporting various statewide initiatives, an Orange County-based sector analysis project is also in the works, which examines specific industry sector needs in terms of workforce development and educational offerings. Crete will be presenting the project’s findings via a series of workshops and events at all of Orange County’s community colleges throughout the fall. She will also be co-presenting at the October California Community College Association for Occupational Education (CCCAOE) conference about how to duplicate the sector analysis process in other regions with fellow regional COE directors Tina Ngo Bartel, of the San Diego-Imperial region, and Adele Hermann, of the South Central region. 

The biggest challenge on Crete’s horizon: reaching the number of people she would like to reach.

“The whole concept of empowering people to live in a space of inquiry in a powerful way takes time. We do webinars, for example, and that’s fine. But if you really want to show people how to use accurate, unbiased data to drive decision making, you need to meet with people. You need to allay their fears and overcome their biases. You have to get in front of faculty, counselors, and institutional researchers, and that takes time.”

Fortunately, it looks like Crete will have the time she needs—the new OC Center of Excellence and Jesse Crete are here to stay.

For more information about the Center of Excellence and the services they provide, feel free to visit http://coeccc.net/Contact-Us