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On the Move in Orange County: Advanced Transportation & Logistics with Regional Director Jaime Gonzalez Sector Profile

February 27, 2020
Jaime Gonzalez working in his machine shop

Today’s interconnected economy is moving faster than ever, and Orange County’s advanced transportation and logistics sector is working round the clock to make sure people and products from across the globe get to where they’re going.

As Orange County’s 7th largest occupational cluster, advanced transportation and logistics (ATL) continues to be one of the region’s fastest growing sectors. Spurred by the expansion of alternative fuels and technological advancements, this rapidly evolving cluster added 6,940 jobs in Orange County according to a 2017 Southern California Association of Governments report.

But what makes ATL especially important is the way it touches every other sector.

“If you think about it, our daily lives revolve around transportation,” says Jaime Gonzalez, Orange County’s regional director of employer engagement for ATL. “From our daily commute to our packages being delivered to our doorsteps, transportation and logistics is essential. When they say, ‘planes, trains, and automobiles,’ they’re talking about us.”

As regional director, Gonzalez’s job is to work as an intermediary between community colleges and regional businesses to make sure students are getting the education they need to get jobs and employers are getting the well-educated workforce they need to continue to thrive.

“Primarily, my job is collaborating with industry to develop programs that will train the future advanced transportation and logistics workforce and also upskill incumbent workers,” says Gonzalez. “We have to train our technicians to be prepared to go into the workforce with the skills that are currently in demand. That’s really what makes community college career education unique—almost everything is driven by industry.”

For his part, Gonzalez got his start in the field as a kid turning wrenches and helping his father maintain his work vehicles. That early mechanical interest led to high school ROP classes. Soon after, his high school automotive teacher helped him get a job sweeping floors at Evans Speed Equipment, one of the first hot rod/machine shops to open on the west coast in 1936. There, Gonzalez learned his trade and worked his way up the ranks while finishing his AA at Citrus College in Glendora, California.

Eventually, Gonzalez and the shop’s owner came to an agreement that allowed Gonzalez to develop his own machine shop business while leasing the shop’s workshop and equipment. Over time, Precision Engine Development earned a reputation for specializing in high-end engine internals and producing high-quality work that others could not. This notoriety led to his work being regularly featured in such national media outlets as Hot Rod Magazine, Car Craft, Muscle Car Review, and Engine Masters.

It was this reputation that would eventually lead Tony Baron, an automotive instructor at Cerritos College, to come to Gonzalez for a machining project. When Baron told Gonzalez that Cerritos was restarting their machine shop program and needed an instructor, Gonzalez accepted the invitation. After several years of splitting time between teaching and his machine shop, Gonzalez applied for the Orange County regional director position.

“It’s remarkable to think that this all started with me sweeping floors in a machine shop,” says Gonzalez, who today holds six Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certifications. “But that job taught me a lot about hard work and what it takes to work your way up and earn something. It taught me how to operate and manage a business, how to deal with customers, how to connect with industry. In many ways, it was the perfect introduction for the job I’m doing today.”

These days, Gonzalez is working hard to make sure regional colleges remain connected to the rapidly evolving needs of regional ATL employers.

One of Gonzalez’s recent projects has been working with Santa Ana College and the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA), which just opened the largest transit-operated hydrogen fueling station in the nation, to develop hydrogen fuel cell curriculum to train and upskill its incumbent workers. With an expected rollout in 2021, this new curriculum will include for-credit college courses and be offered to current OCTA employees as well as the general public.

Similarly, Gonzalez helped orchestrate another instructional service agreement between Santa Ana College and OCTA to offer a for-credit transit bus maintenance certificate.

“The whole idea is that in addition to helping these workers advance their careers, we’re also creating a bridge between them and higher education,” says Gonzalez. “These classes give them an easier and more accessible pathway into education, which makes it more likely that they’ll continue. This is a good thing for everybody. Not only does it increase their earning potential, but it also helps build the more highly educated talent pool regional businesses require.”

Creating this bridge is a key focus for Gonzalez, who will be partnering with Talent Ed, a technology-driven recruiting platform that leverages geographic information systems mapping (GIS) to identify regional employers and talent, and the Orange County Automobile Dealers Association (OCADA) on a regional educational “tour” aimed at informing high school and community college counselors about ATL-related programs available in Orange County. Titled “OC High-Tech Auto Careers,” the talk will be presented to such groups as the North Orange County Regional Occupational Program (NOCROP), Orange County Career Education Community College Counselors (OCCECCC), and the Pathways Scale Up network, as well as at this year’s California Community College Association for Occupational Education (CCCAOE) spring conference.

In addition to raising awareness, Gonzalez is also focused on the development of new opportunities to support ATL education in the region.

“The challenge for ATL is that we have to train our workforce with the skills that aren’t just in demand today, but the skills that will be in demand tomorrow,” says Gonzalez.

As an example, Gonzalez points to advanced driver assist systems (ADAS), which refers to the suite of emerging technologies that assist drivers with everything from changing lanes to braking.

“This is technology that is here right now in just about every vehicle that’s on the road since about 2010,” explains Gonzalez. “Few colleges in the state are equipped to train students on how to maintain and recalibrate these systems. That’s a huge gap, but also a huge opportunity.”

To address this, Gonzalez is working on aligning the five Orange County community colleges that offer automotive education with ADAS training and equipment. Gonzalez is also excited about the opportunities emerging in logistics and supply chain management.

“The occupations that fall under the supply chain umbrella are in huge demand,” explains Gonzalez. “So that’s a big area for us right now.”

For instance, a recent Orange County Center of Excellence analysis of the ATL sector reported that there were 209 job openings for logisticians in 2017 but zero degrees or certificates awarded by any institution in that area. Considering that this occupation pays a median wage of more than $40 an hour, the opportunity is significant for both students and employers. The same is true for the emerging field of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, in which demand is booming.

To learn more about Orange County’s efforts to meet this demand, read “Orange County ‘Takes Off’ with Innovative Drone Education Collaborative.”

While the region has responded to the increasing need for drone operators, it has yet to respond in the same way to logistics. Currently, the only logistics and supply chain management program in Orange County is at Coastline College, which has seen the number of degrees and certificates it grants grow exponentially from 37 in 2014/15 to 121 in 2018/19. Gonzalez hopes to address this regional need in the near future and is working on a region-wide supply chain management effort that would mirror what has been done with drones.

“The transportation sector will continue to evolve as new technologies emerge” says Gonzalez. “We will continue collaborating with industry partners to create innovative training solutions for tomorrow’s highly-skilled workforce.”

For more information about the ATL sector, visit https://atleducation.org/. And for information about community college programs, visit www.FutureBUILT.org.