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2015 April 19 - 11:49 am

Training San Diego’s Workforce Is All About the Partnerships

Community Colleges Must Better Prepare Students to meet Employer Expectations

California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris hit the proverbial nail on the head when he told a recent gathering of business and education leaders at Illumina, Inc., headquarters in La Jolla that community colleges must better prepare students to meet employer expectations.

“If we don’t get it right in California, the country stands to lose its global competitiveness,” U-T San Diego quoted the Chancellor as saying.

The San Diego Community College District—the second-largest community college district in the nation’s most populous state—understands this. From training welders at San Diego Continuing Education for a local ship building company to molding future scientists at the Southern California Biotechnology Center at San Diego Miramar College, the San Diego Community College District is making a profound impact, contributing more than $5.2 billion to the regional economy last year alone.

In fact, the San Diego Community College District (SDCCD) is the region’s largest single provider of workforce training. The SDCCD is involved in a number of endeavors advancing the district’s mission: to train and prepare students with the skills and competencies they need to succeed in local industry growth sectors.

Partnerships are the key. At San Diego Mesa College, for example, the Allied Health Program has launched a groundbreaking partnership with the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility near the U.S.-Mexico border that enables 32 students from the college’s Dental Assisting, Medical Assisting, and Health Education Information Technology programs to secure up to 300 hours of vital clinical training at the prison. This is the first time Donovan has collaborated with a community college district. Not only does the partnership allow critical training for students; it provides the prison with free, high-quality health care. As one physician involved with the program said, “If a student can learn how to work in a prison clinic, they can learn how to work anywhere.”

This fall semester, San Diego Mesa College, for the first time, will offer a bachelor’s degree in the fast-growing field of Health Information Management. Mesa College will be just one of 12 community colleges in California to offer a four-year bachelor’s degree as part of a pilot project, authorized by special state legislation. The legislation, Senate Bill 850, was authored by Sen. Marty Block, who also formerly served as board president of the SDCCD. It was my privilege to serve as the statewide advocacy chair for the bill, a bill fueled in part by studies showing that California will have a shortage of a million bachelor’s degree graduates by the year 2025 and will need to close that gap by generating 60,000 more bachelor’s degrees on an annual basis — approximately 40 percent above current levels. As 21 other states have found, the community college baccalaureate provides another avenue for reaching such goals.

At San Diego Miramar College, the Southern California Biotechnology Center is building a stronger workforce continuum, from K-12 to the workplace, to make sure that the biotech industry has a steady pipeline of trained workers, with significant involvement of community colleges and, where feasible, universities.

Among the Southern California Biotechnology Center’s programs is a Life Science Summer Institute for both students and teachers. High school teachers take part in a 12-day training session via the Amgen Biotech Experience, which provides educators with professional development and classroom supplies. High school students spend seven weeks earning college credits while learning about science and the biotech industry from the experts. The highlight is Bootcamp, a weeklong paid internship doing research with a local biotech company.

For those already working in the industry, the Biotechnology Center coordinates a Biotech Employment Skills Training Program, a 20-hour, hands-on workshop designed for job and internship seekers and those already employed in the sciences.

It would be hard to overstate the biotechnology industry’s impact on San Diego’s economy. According to a San Diego Workforce Partnership report in October 2014, the life sciences industry employs nearly 45,000 people and generates about $16 billion in annual sales revenue. The average life science sector employee earns an annual median salary of approximately $125,000.

At San Diego City College, administrators and faculty have secured hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants for two successful programs working with private industry to prepare students with the skills they need for other in-demand jobs. The grants — delivered through the statewide “Doing What Matters for Jobs and the Economy” program — have established City College as the center of regional efforts to build job readiness in advanced manufacturing and in professions where computer skills are critical.

The Information & Communication Technologies/Digital Media (ICT/Digital Media) program has City College working with industry to bolster computer skills for administrative assistants, information clerks, secretaries, and other office workers — professions that state and federal economists say will sustain robust growth for years to come. Also, the college’s Center for Applied Competitive Technologies program offers training in advanced manufacturing and assists manufacturers in modernizing their production.

The ICT/Digital Media program led to the creation of a new Business Information Worker readiness certificate program that will be launched this fall and will include courses in Business Communications, Information Systems, and Microsoft Excel, among others. Earlier this spring, the Information and Communication Technologies/Digital Media Sector grant contributed to workshops ensuring community college students are job ready when they complete their degrees. Following the career workshops, on-campus interviews were conducted in February and March for more than 250 available jobs in the area. More than 200 students interviewed with recruiters, and nearly all qualified for job offers for positions that ranged from administrative assistants to engineering technicians.

The SDCCD is not the only community college district in the region that is doing great work. A first-ever study of recent community college graduates in San Diego and Imperial counties shows that nearly 9 out of 10 have either transferred to a university or are in the labor force. The study also shows that these graduates’ community college education played a key role in getting them to their educational and workforce destinations. Moreover, about 96 percent who pursued work after graduation found a job within six months, with 60 percent working in a field related to their studies.

There are other approaches and examples that could fill many more pages since workforce education is one of the top priorities in the SDCCD’s regional mission. At the San Diego Community College District, we are proud of the partnerships that enable us to contribute to a diverse, thriving economy in America’s Finest City.

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